Boehner: Let Obamacare pay student loans

Published: April 26, 2012 at 4:00 AM

WASHINGTON, April 26 (UPI) -- The House will vote on taking money from the U.S. healthcare-overhaul law to keep student-loan interest rates from doubling, House Speaker John Boehner said.

Boehner, R-Ohio -- who said the vote would happen Friday -- accused President Barack Obama of political theatrics in his two-day tour of three university campuses in swing states to get Congress to extend the low interest rate on federal student loans.

"You know this week, the president is traveling the country on the taxpayer's dime, campaigning and trying to invent a fight where there isn't one and never has been one on this issue of student loans," Boehner said in a hastily arranged news conference Wednesday.

"Let's fix the problems for young Americans and leave the campaign theatrics for the fall," Boehner said.

The House speaker said the $5.9 billion one-year extension of the low interest rate would be paid for out of a $17 billion prevention and public health fund in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration's signature healthcare law. Boehner called the healthcare money a "slush fund."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., responded, saying Republicans were "yet again asking working families to pay the price instead of closing tax loopholes that benefit special interests."

House Democrats introduced their own measure, which would cancel tax subsidies for big oil companies as a way to pay for freezing student loan rates at current levels.

At his college stops, Obama assailed congressional Republicans for actions he said held up legislation to prevent the interest rate on subsidized Stafford student loans from doubling to 6.8 percent July 1.

Those loans are taken out by nearly 8 million students each year.

A few hours before Boehner spoke, Obama told University of Iowa students a Boehner spokesman had said Obama's focus on student loans was an effort to "distract people from the economy."

"Now think about that for a second, because these guys don't get it," Obama told the boisterous student audience. "If you do well, the economy does well. This is about the economy. What economy are they talking about? You are the economy."

Obama spoke to audiences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Colorado at Boulder Tuesday.

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 the current 3.4 percent, with the proviso the rates would revert to 6.8 percent July 1.

When the 2007 law was passed, 77 Republicans -- including many still in Congress -- voted for it, The New York Times said.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated a one-year freeze on the subsidized Stafford loan interest rate would cost $6 billion.

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