Republicans invoke Fourth spirit to urge Democrats to compromise on student loans

Republicans on Saturday urged Democrats to strike a deal to overhaul the federal student loan program, which would put an end to college students sweating out the summer on whether loan rates will double before fall classes start.

The Senate failed to reach a deal before leaving for Fourth of July break to keep the rate for the federally subsidized Stafford loan from going from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

Republicans want Democrats to act on legislation that ties the rate to the financial markets.

“For too long, politicians have been in charge of setting these rates, and we keep coming back to cliffs and deadlines like this one,”  Kansas Rep. Lynn Jenkins, vice chairman of House Republican Conference, said Saturday in the party’s weekly address.

Republicans have also tried to chide Democrats into agreeing to such a change by arguing President Obama included a similar plan in the budget proposal he submitted this spring to Congress.

"Why Senate Democrats continue to attack the president's plan is a mystery to me, but I hope he's able to persuade them to join our bipartisan effort to assist students," Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said before the July 1 deadline passed.

The Republican-led House has already passed a bill reflecting Obama’s plan.

The new rate -- which is the rate before Congress started gradually lowering it in 2007 to 3.4 percent -- will increase the average loan by $2,600.

“Paying for college is difficult enough without all this uncertainty," Jenkins also said. “I have two kids in college. I know how hard it can be.”

Senate Democrats want a two-year extension of the current rate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said any proposal that ties loan rates to the 10-year Treasury note yield could never pass the Senate and that he couldn’t back something that doesn’t include stronger protections for students and parents. His office also argues Republicans continue to try to improve the country’s debt and spending issues by squeezing the poor and middle class instead of closing loopholes for the wealthy.

However, the White House predicts a deal will be reached before students return from their summer break, with a possible vote on a one-year extension coming as early as July 10, after Congress returns to Washington.

"The spirit of 1776 is fresh in our hearts this weekend," Jenkins added. "America is at its best when it lives up to the blessings our forebears pledged. ... Today these essentials of the American Dream are at risk. Last week, I spoke with hundreds of college students who are concerned they won't have the same opportunities their parents had."