WASHINGTON, April 27 (UPI) -- The U.S. House approved a Republican-backed bill Friday that would retain student loan rates another year by taking money from a preventive healthcare program.
The White House vowed to veto the measure, which it called in a statement "a politically motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing America's college students deserves."
The bill would retain the 3.4 percent interest rate on the loans for one more year by cutting $5.9 billion from the preventive healthcare program created through healthcare reform, The Washington Post reported.
The low interest rate resulted from the 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which reduced interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans for the following four academic years to 3.4 percent, with the proviso the rates would revert to 6.8 percent July 1 this year.
Senate Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday that would pay to keep the interest rate from doubling by imposing new payroll taxes on so-called "S corporations" with three or fewer shareholders.
The Stafford student loans are taken out by nearly 8 million students each year.
During floor debate, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Democrats had picked a fight on something where there "is absolutely no fight."
"People want to politicize it because it's an election year, but my God, do we have to fight about everything?"
Boehner said President Barack Obama has proposed cutting the health fund for other purposes, The Hill reported.
"So to accuse us of wanting to gut women's health is absolutely not true," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is beneath us. This is beneath the dignity of this House, and the dignity of the public trust that we enjoy from our constituents."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the healthcare fund helps pay for immunization, health screening and other preventive maintenance, so cutting it to pay for maintain student loan interest rates "just would be wrong."
"Imagine if we're sitting around that kitchen table as a family … and we say as a family, in order for you to go to college, we're not going to be able to immunize your little brother or sister, we're not going to be able to have preventive care in terms of screening for breast cancer, cervical cancer … for your mom, or any other preventive care for men and women in our family," Pelosi said on the House floor.
The healthcare program, the Prevention and Public Health Fund, provides money to city and state governments to help prevent obesity and the spread of HIV/AIDS, reduce tobacco use, train public health workers and modernize vaccines.
Boehner said this week $4 billion had been taken from the health fund, which he dubbed a "slush fund," to pay for the recent payroll-tax reduction.
"Many Democrats voted for it; the president signed it into law," Boehner said. "So I think they've made clear the precedent is there that they don't believe that this money is essential to their program."
"It may be a slush fund to him, but it's survival to women," Pelosi said." It's survival to women. That just goes to show you what a luxury he thinks it is to have good healthcare. We do not agree."
In its statement, the White House said: "Women, in particular, will benefit from this Prevention Fund, which would provide for hundreds of thousands of screenings for breast and cervical cancer."
The Post said the Senate doesn't plan to vote on its version of the rate-extension bill until after it returns from a week-long recess May 8, setting the stage for debate on the issue as President Obama and Mitt Romney campaign.