WASHINGTON – House Republicans ignored a veto threat and overcame a rebellion by party conservatives to push a bill through Friday that would keep interest rates on millions of federal student loans from doubling this summer.
Lawmakers voted 215-195 to approve a bill that has become an election-year battle between the two parties over helping families in a persistently ailing economy. The measure sparked debate over women’s health issues, too.
The White House and most Democrats opposed the $5.9 billion bill because of how Republicans covered the costs: by eliminating a preventive health care fund in President Obama’s health care law. They say it mostly benefits women, while Republicans call it a loosely controlled slush fund.
Republicans noted that many Democrats had voted earlier this year to take money from the preventive health fund to help keep doctors’ Medicare reimbursements from dropping.
Obama’s own budget in February proposed cutting $4 billion from the same fund to pay for some of his priorities.
The House measure is destined to die in the Senate, where majority Democrats have written a version of the bill paid for by raising Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on high-income owners of some privately owned companies, which GOP senators oppose.
The House bill would keep interest rates for subsidized Stafford loans at 3.4 percent for another year. Without congressional action, they would rise automatically to 6.8 percent on July 1, a condition set in a law that Democrats pushed through Congress five years ago.
GOP lawmakers were pressured by conservative groups like the Club for Growth to oppose the legislation because, they said, the government should not subsidize student loans.