Angry words over student loan interest bill

The House today voted 215-195 to pass HR 4628, which extends lower student-loan interest rates for a year by eliminating a preventative care fund created by President Obama’s health-care reform law.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, but it won’t come to that: It’s dead on arrival in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has advanced a plan to pay for extending the lower student-loan rates by levying taxes on those who make $250,000 or more per year from certain small “S corporations,” private businesses that don’t pay corporate taxes. House Democrats had wanted to pay for it by ending subsidies to oil and gas companies.

Here’s what Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said on the House floor before today’s vote:

“Mr. Speaker, I’m here today to speak out against H.R. 4628, the so-called Interest Rate Reduction Act.

“It is clear to me that Republicans are not serious about addressing the student loan interest rate hikes, with this so-called Interest Rate Reduction Act. Their bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and would permanently end the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a key component of the Affordable Care Act that promotes wellness, prevents disease, and protects against public health emergencies.

“This prevention Fund is the first mandatory funding stream dedicated to improving public health – and it is extremely important in our fight to prevent chronic diseases, including HIV/AIDS, in Women’s health.

“This is such a sad and sinister ploy. Instead of pitting student loan relief for middle and low-income families against critical preventive services for middle and low-income families, we should be working toward real solutions. Instead of paying for subsidies to big oil, we should invest in our students, who are our future.

“This bill jeopardizes the health of our nation and it uses our students as pawns. And it is morally wrong. I hope we defeat this insincere proposal.”

After the vote, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio said:

“Students and families are struggling in President Obama’s economy. Nearly half of college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, and laws like ObamaCare have only made it harder for small businesses to hire them. That’s why House Republicans voted to extend current student loan rates and to pay for it by eliminating an ObamaCare slush fund President Obama himself proposed cutting from his budget. It’s time for the president and Democrats in Congress to stop exploiting the challenges facing young Americans for political gain, and start working with Republicans to create a better environment for private-sector job growth.”

But, from Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee:

“Today’s vote shows that the Republicans are on very thin ice on this issue, barely being able to pass their bill, and by less than a majority of the House. They should join us now on a bill to lower the loan rates and pay for it in a way that does not harm middle class women and children.

“Republicans call the Prevention and Public Health Fund a ‘slush’ fund. That’s amazing. Breast and cervical cancer screenings are not things you pay for with a slush fund. You don’t immunize children from infectious disease with a slush fund. You want know what a slush fund is? A slush fund is the tax loophole Republicans are protecting for the five largest oil and gas companies making record profits. That’s a slush fund.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Harry Reid had better enjoy being the head sphincter in the Senate while he can.

    Does anyone give a rat’s patootie what Bobbie Lee or Georgie Porgie Miller say? It’s always the same old boiler plate crap. All you have do do is wind them up and put them in front of a microphone and out it comes.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    After 30 years of public health efforts, Dr Lee still wants more cash for AIDS prevention? Who hasn’t gotten the word? In most countries, changing behavior rather than more research will prevent the disease.

  • Truthclubber

    #1 — Funny thing; I feel the same way (well almost, I wouldn’t use THOSE words) about John Boehner and his current role in the House.

  • JohnW

    Re #1

    Anatomy aside, I suspect Elwood is accurate in his prediction. 33 Senate seats up in 2012, and 23 of them are currently held by Dems. Long odds on holding the Senate or regaining a majority in the house. 50/50 on the White House. So, we could be in for a long ride of Pledge of Allegiance to Grover Norquist voodoo economics on steroids — more tax cuts beyond even Reagan’s wildest dream and then later blaming the Dems for running up the debt. It will be interesting to see what happens when we hit the debt ceiling again in January if a President Willard Romney has to convince the wingers in the House to vote for raising it at the same time we are cutting taxes.

  • Truthclubber

    @4 — in the word of words between Team Boehner/McConnell/Ryan/the rest of the GOP vs. Obama — I just have two words to add to this one, highlighted here:

    Game On!

    On, Wisconsin (and the rest of the battleground states!) — Forward!

    As Ronnie RayGun taught us, “Facts are stubborn things — they refuse to go away.”