WH threatens veto on student loan bill because of health reform repeal
Updated at 12:21 p.m.
(CBS News) The Obama administration has issued a veto threat of the House version of a bill to extend low interest rates on student loans because the Republican version of the legislation would repeal part of President Obama's health care overhaul.
"This is a politically-motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing America's college students deserves," the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement. "If the President is presented with H.R. 4628, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."
The House is voting today on the legislation, which is primarily aimed at preventing a 3.4 percent increase in federal student loan interest rates. If Congress doesn't act by July 1, the interest rate on new subsidized Federal Direct Stafford Loans for undergraduate students will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
Mr. Obama has campaigned aggressively for Congress to extend the low interest rates. Some Republicans in the House have opposed the extension on the grounds that it would come at a high cost to taxpayers, and they objected to the Democrats' proposal to pay for it by eliminating some of the subsidies on the oil industry. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he "fully supports" the extension of the low interest rates.
The OMB in its statement reiterated Mr. Obama's full-throated support for the extension.
"The Administration strongly supports serious, bipartisan efforts to prevent interest rates from doubling for over 7 million college students in the coming year," the statement said. "Graduates should not be burdened with unmanageable college debt as they seek to launch a career or a business, start a family, or buy a house."
In order to pay for the student loan bill, the House bill would repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a fund created as part of Mr. Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. The administration says women in particular would benefit from the fund, which would provide for hundreds of thousands of screenings for breast and cervical cancer.
"The president is so desperate to fake a fight that he's willing to veto a bill to help students over a slush fund that he advocated cutting in his own budget," Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner spokesman. "It's a simple as this: Republicans are acting to help college students and the president is now getting in the way."
Democrats, meanwhile, slammed Republicans for keeping up their "assault on women" by targeting the the Prevention and Public Health Fund. They also suggested Republicans aren't interested in extending the low interest rates but are bringing the bill forward for political reasons.
"On the floor of this House at this time on this day, the Republicans have folded because the president made the issue too hot to handle. That is why the bill is coming to the floor today," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters. "And they're playing with fire... What we're saying here today is stop your assault on women."
Pelosi was asked why she allowed money to be taken from the fund to help pay for the payroll tax credit at the end of last year but opposes this measure.
"Good question, and all the more reason why we shouldn't be taking any more money out of it," she said. "We weren't happy that that was the only way that they would agree to the payroll tax reduction, but the fact is some money has already been taken out. All the more reason to leave the rest of the money in."
She added that Republicans are trying to eliminate the fund all together, not simply take out money from it.
While Republicans found a way to pay for the bill, some conservative advocacy groups are still calling on Congress to reject it. The influential Club for Growth, which produces an annual congressional scorecard, said today's vote would be a "key vote" that impacts each members' scorecard.
"The federal government should not be in the business of distorting the market for student loans," Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement. "Decades of government intervention have driven tuition costs to record highs and continuing these subsidies is simply bad policy. We urge members of Congress to oppose them."
Similarly, the conservative Heritage Action said in a statement, "Not only do the subsidies fail to stem the rising cost of a college education, the loans are also easily attained, increasing the likelihood taxpayers will be left on the hook when students default."
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