GOP blames Senate Democrats as student loan rates spike

House Republicans pointed the finger at Senate Democrats Monday as student loan rates doubled due to Congress's inability to strike a deal.

Monday marked the end of a temporary deal to halve student loan interest rates, and set off a fresh round of the blame game. With Congress on a weeklong recess, GOP leaders called on the Senate to take up their House-passed bill as soon as possible.

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Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said division among Democrats, in the White House and the Capitol, was "directly responsible" for the rate hike.

"It’s disappointing that Senate Democrats left town without taking action on behalf of students and their families," he said in a statement. "Indeed, the divisions among the president and his own party are directly responsible for the current impasse that will now result in higher borrowing costs for students already coping with skyrocketing tuition bills."

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) squarely blamed Senate Democrats for the rate boost, which could end up costing students on average of $1,000 in additional interest payments over the life of their loans.

"Today, student loan rates will increase simply because Senate Democrats failed to act," he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) fired back later in the day, saying the rate jump is due to a "Republican-manufactured crisis."

"Democrats have offered our colleagues multiple opportunities to freeze interest rates and ensure college remains in reach for millions of Americans," she said. "Yet each time, Republicans said ‘no,’ choosing to push their plan to make college more expensive and saddle students and families with more debt."

The rate hike affect new loans taken out under the subsidized Stafford program, which are government loans provided to students who can prove a financial need. The arrival of the July 1 deadline means those loans now come with a 6.8 percent interest rate, as opposed to the 3.4 percent students have received since it was lowered to a fixed rate by Congress in 2006.

Both Republicans and the White House have put forward plans to deal with the interest rates by tying it to Treasury bond rates, allowing it to fluctuate along with the economy. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have pushed for a freeze of the lower rates for another year or two, buying time for further debate on the issue.

Republicans have taken advantage of the gap between the Obama administration and congressional Democrats. Boehner on Monday said the Republican plan mirrors the White House's, and called on Senate Democrats to get on board.

Democrats contend that there are key differences between those two proposals, as the White House plan would let students lock in rates when taking out the loan (the GOP plan would allow rates to change year-to-year), and they also objected to the lack of a cap to prevent rates from exceeding a certain level. The White House has threatened to veto the House proposal.

The president made the interest rates, which were set to expire last summer before they were extended, a focal point of his reelection campaign. He visited a number of swing state college campuses to hammer on the issue, eventually convincing GOP challenger Mitt Romney to also back a freezing of the lower rates.

This story was posted at 11:28 a.m. and updated at 4:18 p.m.

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