Senate Democrats battled among themselves over student loans Thursday, holding dueling news conferences about the right way to prevent interest rates from doubling in four days.
It was an unusual situation for the party with an issue on which it has typically been united. And the split all but guaranteed that the chamber will blow past the July 1 deadline, when new student loan applicants who receive need-based federal aid will see their interest rates rise from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
But this week’s intraparty division is not especially surprising given that Senate Democrats have been simmering for months over President Barack Obama’s April budget proposal, which included a student loan proposal designed to foster bipartisan agreement. Now, that simmer has heated to a boil, with many congressional Democrats believing that the White House plan — which Republicans have largely adopted — pushed them too far to the right.
But while some Senate Democrats wanted to hold the line against both the White House and Republicans, others decided to try to forge their own bipartisan deal.
On Thursday, Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Angus King, I-Maine, unveiled a student loan agreement with three Senate Republicans. Hours later, a group of a half dozen Democratic senators, led by Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, announced their own one-year patch at the current rate level. At that second news conference, Reed and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, illustrated their frustration with the bipartisan measure, holding up a giant poster of rates over time with the “Manchin” plan.