The government-run health insurance plan may be D.O.A., but Democrats may try to pass a "public option" this week after all.

As a vote looms on health care legislation, look out for Rep. John Kline to emerge as a leading Republican voice against a little-known but controversial provision of the health care reform bill: a so-called "public option" for student lending.

Kline, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, has been a vocal critic of an Obama administration plan to replace government subsidies of private student lenders with direct government lending. The government would then save money by reaping the profits from the loans -- though the exact amount of savings is disputed.

Those savings would partly pay for an expansion of the Pell Grant program.

The House approved the bill last year, but it is now being bundled with health care legislation because of doubts that it can pass muster in the Senate. As Republican leaders lead a full-court press against health care legislation this week, a committee aide said Kline will likely be leading the charge against this provision.

When the bill came up for a vote last July, Kline incidentally noted its similarity to the health care public option during a speech on the floor.

“As we all know, today, the Democrat leadership in this House is bringing forth a health care reform bill with a public option for the stated purpose of instituting competition with the private sector, making the private sector insurance business better...The legislation we’re going to bring up, perhaps this week in this House, eliminates the private option and leaves only the public option. It kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it, about the designs on the future of the public option in health care.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Sen. Al Franken is a big supporter of the provision.

“To me, this whole discussion boils down to a simple question,” Franken said at a press conference last week. “Are we going to continue wasting billions of dollars on subsidies to banks, or are we going to use the money to help students go to college? In this tough economy, when so many students are struggling to afford college, it just doesn’t make sense to me that we would choose banks over students.”

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