Dems fight to attach student loan reform to budget

But will the president's proposed overhaul make it past the GOP (and six holdouts from his own party)?

Published March 12, 2010 2:13PM (EST)

Just when you think Democrats are a risk-averse bunch of, ah, goldfish, they do something I admire:

The chairmen of the Senate and House education committees said on Thursday that they would fight to attach President Obama’s proposed overhaul of student lending programs to the budget reconciliation package, which will include final revisions to the Democrats’ sweeping health care legislation.

But defenders of the private student loan industry in the Senate are intent on keeping the student loan initiative out of the health care legislation, and some Democrats are also worried that including the education measure could hinder efforts to pass the health care bill.

You can replace the text I bolded with these names: Senators Thomas Carper (D-Delaware), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Warner and Jim Webb (both D-Va.), and the GOP (by which I mean the Republican Party and Senator Ben Nelson, nominally a Democrat from Nebraska). These six Democrats and many of their cross-aisle brethren are staunchly opposed to the president's proposed fix to the student loan system. The fix would essentially eliminate an expensive middle-man, by making the government responsible for directly lending to students instead of paying banks to make the loans. Obama has proposed using the money the government will save to offer more Pell grants to low-income students.

Why oppose this? How can you even oppose this? Well, you can oppose this if there are banks in your home state that are currently making a profit off of taking the government's money, loaning it to students, and then selling those exact same loans back to the government. These banks employ people, and these people vote. If you then consider it easier to screw the low-income students in your state than to tell the high-income bankers they'd best look for new jobs, you oppose student loan reform legislation.

This opposition has made it impossible for Obama to get 60 votes on the bill in the Senate. Sounds familiar, right? So Senate Democrats -- and I do applaud them for this -- have decided to combine Educating America and Making America Healthy into one big Making America Better package to be passed through reconciliation. Majority votes can make both healthcare and a more efficient student aid process a reality.

Why does this impress me? Because this is a big gamble. You pass these two things together, and it's excellent, fantastic progress. You fail to pass these two things -- and it's a much bigger setback than simply failing to get one or the other through the process.

The beauty of this attachment, though, is that every person who votes against reconciliation can be accused of a two-sided attack on the most vulnerable members of our society: Hard-working Americans who want nothing more than to pursue the American dream without drowning in school debt or hospital bills.

I'd lay 10:1 odds that the Dems won't be courageous enough to stick that knife into their GOP friends next fall, but that doesn't mean my memory won't be so long. Hi, Ben Nelson. Yes, I see you there. And I will see you again in 2012.

By Jenn Kepka

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