President Barack Obama on Monday will throw his support behind a new proposal to dramatically revamp the federal student loan program, according to the White House.
A bill proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would allow borrowers to potentially save thousands of dollars by giving them a chance to effectively pay off their high-rate existing loans in exchange for new loans that carry substantially lower interest rates.
The Obama administration initially was hesitant to fully embrace the bill because of disagreements over how to pay for it. But with mounting pressure from advocacy groups, and with a renewed political focus on issues confronting working families, the president has softened his opposition. Obama’s endorsement would be the latest recognition to date of the ascendance of Warren-style populism within the Democratic Party.
An administration official told The Huffington Post that Obama is expected to "call for passage of the refinancing bill" when it comes up for a vote, as it is scheduled to do next week.
Student groups and other organizations focusing on younger Americans enthusiastically support Warren’s bill, under which new interest rates would range from 3.86 percent for loans taken out by borrowers when they were undergraduates to 6.41 percent for parents who took out loans for their children's college tuition, as well as for borrowers who took out loans to pay for graduate school.
The financial industry, perhaps not surprisingly, is less enamored with the proposal. The bill would allow borrowers to refinance loans owned by the private sector into new loans made by the Education Department. Paying off loans early deprives lenders of future interest income, causing paper losses.
Republicans appear to be dead set against enacting the proposal into law, but for different reasons. The Democrats proposed to offset the loss of future federal revenue by increasing taxes on the wealthy — a pay-for idea that is anathema in conservative circles.
“This bill doesn’t make college more affordable, reduce the amount of money students will have to borrow, or do anything about the lack of jobs grads face in the Obama economy," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement.
The lack of Republican support means the proposal would be unlikely to garner the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster in the Senate or pass the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Analysts at Compass Point Research & Trading, a financial firm, put the odds of it becoming law at less than 10 percent.
But Democrats, including the White House, still are likely to hold a vote in hopes of placing Republicans on the wrong side of an issue that is becoming increasingly important to American households. Some 40 million Americans have student loans. They collectively owe $1.3 trillion, making student debt the second-biggest form of consumer debt after home mortgages. Unpaid student debt has doubled since 2007, according to the Federal Reserve.
"College has never been more important, but it’s also never been more expensive," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said this week. "So we commend the efforts in the Senate and look forward to working with them to pass this bill."
Warren's bill is a central part of Senate Democrats’ so-called “Fair Shot” agenda in advance of November’s elections. Thirty-five other senators are co-sponsoring the measure.
“The bill is part of Democrats' strategy to highlight a number of issues they believe will energize their voting base ahead of the midterm elections,” analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods wrote in a note to clients last month. But the cost to enact the proposal combined with new taxes, they added, “suggests to us that the Warren bill is more about the politics of the issue and not about passing the bill.