WASHINGTON — Setting the stage for another showdown with the Obama administration, Republicans in the House on Friday narrowly passed legislation to prevent a rate hike on student loans — to be paid for with funds from the nation’s new health-care law.
Democrats objected to raiding a public health and disease prevention fund to pay for keeping loan interest rates low, calling it an attack on women and children who benefit from the health programs.
The White House vowed to veto the bill, which is essentially dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats proposed a tax increase on higher-income households to fund the loan program.
“This is a politically motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing America’s college students deserves,” the White House said, noting that hundreds of thousands of screenings for breast and cervical cancer are available through the health fund.
In seeking to tamp down yet another partisan battle, House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, may have launched one by quickly pushing forward legislation with little Democratic support. The House vote was 215 to 195 on Friday.
If Congress fails to come to an agreement, loan rates for 7 million college students will double to 6.8 percent on July 1.
Yet Republicans have calculated that by swiftly passing their version of the bill, they can push the blame back onto the White House.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, supports keeping the rates low, and Boehner, leveling some of his harshest attacks yet on the White House, suggested Obama had engineered a “fake fight” as the president toured college campuses this week to rally support for the lower interest rates.
“It’s a simple as this: Republicans are acting to help college students and the president is now getting in the way,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.