Student Loan Deal Takes Shape, but Harkin Blamed for Delay

A bipartisan group of senators reached a tentative agreement to permanently fix federal student loan rates Wednesday evening, following a day of frustration from Republicans and moderate Democrats with what they viewed as liberal slow-walking of a potential deal.

Just a day after being urged by President Barack Obama at the White House to forge a compromise, Senators met twice in the Capitol on Wednesday to discuss legislation to fix student loan rates after Congress let a one-year extension of the subsidized Stafford loan rate expire and double on July 1.

The first meeting was Democrats-only in the afternoon with more than a half dozen senators attending, but it did not include Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, according to a source familiar with negotiations. A second, bipartisan meeting later in the evening in the leadership suite of Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., ended with negotiators cautiously optimistic they could move forward on a plan, especially with what they believed was Obama’s blessing.

Of all the senators involved in talks on the issue, it has been Harkin who has been most reluctant to sign off on an agreement. As CQ Roll Call has previously reported, even though the White House has said it does not want to raise money from students to pay down the deficit, current law and the framework the administration put forward in its 2014 budget does just that.

Harkin, along with Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, has been insistent that an agreement should not raise money off the backs of students. Warren has not been in the room for the recent bipartisan talks.

Frustration with Harkin ran so high Wednesday that GOP negotiators mulled not attending the bipartisan meeting in Durbin’s office.

Read More on Roll Call: Student Loan Deal Takes Shape, but Harkin Blamed for Delay

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