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June 27, 2012 5:25 PM Senate Reaches Agreement on Student Loan Interest Rate

By Daniel Luzer

Wow, turns out sometimes Congress can accomplish something. Provided it’s, you know, a policy everyone agrees on and after going through a parody of intense partisan wrangling.

The long-running debate about extending the student loan interest appears to finally be over. Congress will probably extend the low interest rate on some student loans.

Back in April President Barack Obama proposed extending the 3.4 percent student loan interest rate for Subsidized Stafford Loans for another year. At first Congressional Republicans called Obama’s idea irresponsible. They later announced they supported it, sort of. The Democratic plan called for paying for the extension though a small change in tax policy. The Republican plan would extend the interest rate by cutting funding for one Program in the Affordable Care Act. If the two sides didn’t reach an agreement, the interest rate would double on July 1, this Sunday.

Crisis averted, probably. According to an article by Jonathan Weisman in the New York Times:

The Senate Democratic and Republican leaders on Tuesday reached an agreement on legislation to extend subsidized federal student loans, adding bipartisan pressure to House Republicans to come along before rates double July 1.
The $6.7 billion agreement would extend the current 3.4 percent rate on Stafford loans for one year, with about $700 million extra for deficit reduction, according to Senate leadership aides. The bulk of that — $5.5 billion — would come from two pension measures. One would change how private pension interest payments are calculated, smoothing the fluctuations for businesses even as the total cost rises slightly. The other would come from higher premiums for companies participating in the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

The White House was apparently not involved in helping the Senate reach a deal, though apparently White House Press Secretary Jay Carney praised the agreement.“We’re pleased that the Senate has reached a deal to keep rates low and continue offering hard-working students a fair shot at affordable education,” Carney said, according to Weisman.

Well not that fair a shot. Because the 3.4 percent rate applied only to Subsidized Stafford loans issued to undergraduate students for the 2011-12 school year, the agreement doesn’t save students very much money. All Stafford loans issued before 2011 carry higher rates. The agreement only extends the 3.4 rate another year. The 3.4 percent extension saves students at most $9 (and an average $6) a month.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer