With student loan rates set to double in five weeks, the U.S. House passed a bill Thursday by U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., to replace the current fixed rates with floating rates tied to government borrowing costs.
But the largely party-line 221-198 vote does not avert the crisis for an estimated 7 million students who get federal student loans to meet the challenges of rising college costs and diminishing employment prospects.
Under a White House veto threat, Kline’s bill sets the stage for a high-stakes standoff with the Democratic-led Senate to meet a July 1 deadline, with tens of thousands of students looking on from Minnesota, which ranks third nationally in overall student debt.
The Obama administration and many congressional Democrats have embraced a switch to market rate loans, ending a system in which rates are set by Congress. But the two sides have yet to come together on which market indicators to use, and how to protect the neediest students from rising rates in the future.
Without an agreement in the coming weeks, the federally subsidized loan rate for undergraduate students is scheduled to jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, doubling the borrowing costs for Minnesota students, who now graduate at an average of nearly $30,000 in debt.
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A bipartisan deal in the Senate has emerged that would lower interest rates on student loans in the next few years but could spell higher costs after that.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison was the lone member of Minnesota's delegation to vote against the legislation, which ties student loan interest rates to financial markets.
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