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White House, congressional GOP squabble over student loans

A legislative squabble over college costs persisted on Tuesday as Vice President Joe Biden criticized the GOP for not being serious about keeping student loan interest rates down while Senate Republicans urged the White House to take up ideas they’ve proposed.

“I hope to the Lord, Congress decides to get serious about it and stops playing – my word – playing games,” Biden said to a group of college presidents in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, warning that without Congressional action, temporarily low student-loan interest rates would rise again on July 1st.

The back-and-forth between the White House and Congressional Republicans over the rate extension was jump-started last week as Republican leaders sent President Obama a letter with options on how to pay for it, like increasing federal employee retirement contributions.

But the president has yet to respond to the letter, which Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who co-signed the letter, decried on the Senate floor today, suggesting that Biden could have reached out to Republicans instead of meeting with the college leaders, with whom he discussed new transparency measures for college financial information.
"That way he'll give these folks some good news to bring back to their campuses, instead of just asking them to be props in this elaborate farce the White House political team cooked up on this issue,” McConnell charged.

Despite the apparent inaction over the letter, Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressed confidence that the low rates would be extended before time ran out.

“We fully anticipate and expect this to be resolved in a good way,” Duncan said, making an appearance at the White House daily briefing, though he added that it wasn’t his job to negotiate from the podium. 

During his meeting today Biden did not address the Republicans’ letter or McConnell’s comments, but instead tried to tap into the emotions of families struggling to pay for college. He condemned the “God-awful recession” for eliminating, for many Americans, the option of borrowing against the value of their homes. 

“The most helpless feeling in the world as a parent, I think, is looking at your talented, beautiful child and knowing there's not a darn thing you can do to help him get there,” he said.

Biden also praised the college presidents in attendance for committing to provide their schools’ financial information in a single, easy-to-find “shopping sheet” available online. 

Beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, 10 institutions, including the State University System of New York and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will consolidate information about the costs of one year of college, financial aid options, including grants and scholarships and estimated monthly payments for federal student loans the student would owe after graduation.

The information will be posted on participating schools’ websites.

Biden said the pledge would “empower students and their families to get back in the driver’s seat when they're choosing a college and how to pay for their education.”

Public posturing over the student-loan interest rates will likely continue this week as President Obama heads to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Thursday to urge Congress to extend the interest-loan rates.