Today, the White House announced that on Friday the President will hold an event focused on preventing student loan rates from doubling at the end of June. It’s a worthy policy goal. Republicans share it. What’s striking about the news of this event, however, is that the Republican-led House has already passed legislation to do this. In fact, the House passed legislation that reflects a change in policy that was proposed in the president’s own budget. And at the same time, the Senate, controlled by the president’s party, has made no effort to pass a similar plan. It’s obvious that the White House would love nothing more than to change the subject from its growing list of scandals, but scheduling this PR stunt reeks of desperation. Picking a fight out of thin air where there’s policy agreement isn’t going to get the White House out of trouble, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to help students facing a looming rate hike.
So, in advance of the cynical event, here’s a look at the recent history of this important issue:
LAST YEAR: President calls for, gets legislation extending a low, fixed interest rate for student loans.
APRIL 10th: President releases a budget that calls for a change to a market-based variable interest rate for student loans.
APRIL/MAY: Republicans work with administration officials to craft a variable interest rate proposal.
MAY 9th: Chairman John Kline introduces the Smarter Solutions for Students Act, a market-based variable interest rate bill similar to the plan in the president’s budget.
MAY 9th: The AP reports that by agreeing to the president’s variable interest rate, Republicans are giving the president a “rare win.” (Republicans to back Obama's student loan plan; Associated Press; May 9, 2013)
MAY 20th: The Washington Post editorializes in favor of the variable interest rate, saying “There’s no reason to delay passing such a policy.” (Reforming student loans is off to a good start; Washington Post; May 20, 2013)
MAY 22ND: As Republicans prepare to pass the Smarter Solutions for Students Act, mirroring the president’s own proposal, the president (unbelievably) threatens to veto it.
MAY 23RD: The House passes the Smarter Solutions for Students Act, the variable interest rate student loan bill.
MAY 29th: The White House announces a PR event to call on Congress to pass (presumably) a variable interest rate student loan bill.
MEANWHILE: The Democratic-controlled Senate has not attempted to pass any student loan interest rate legislation, with the June 30 deadline rapidly approaching.
If the White House is truly concerned about preventing student interest rates from doubling, it should be a little more consistent in its policy, a little less focused on political stunts, and call on its own Democratic-controlled Senate to act.