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Senate Dems Say They’ll Include Student Loan Reform in Health Care Reconciliation

Will a spoon full of sugar help the medicine go down? (photo: Caro Wallis)

In an unexpected maneuver, Senate Democrats signaled that they would add the student loan reform bill to the reconciliation package being prepped for the health care bill. While the House may have to pass the Senate bill fully and have it signed by the President before moving to a reconciliation fix, this sweetener – providing college affordability for hundreds of thousands of students in their districts and ending subsidies for big banks – may make it worth their while to move forward.

The move would create a potential double victory for President Obama, who has championed both causes as among domestic priorities. And Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said Thursday, “There was a stronger feeling for including” the education proposal. Some senators disagreed with the strategy, Durbin said, adding that a final decision has yet to be reached.

Under the student loan proposal, subsidies that now support private lenders would be shifted to other student assistance programs, including Pell Grants for families struggling to afford college tuition. “Some of the things accomplished here are really going to help a lot of people across America,” Durbin said.

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) had been one of the chief opponents of the maneuver, for fear that it would provoke procedural challenges from Republicans. But he said the Senate parliamentarian had suggested in a preliminary ruling that combining the bills could work, provided Senate Democrats strike the right balance on cost.

“I’d say yes, we’re leaning toward it,” Conrad said.

There was a caveat, with Conrad saying that the bill “would have to be pared down” before moving forward. I don’t know quite what that means, but it could mean that the Sallie Mae counter-proposal would be included, not the original SAFRA bill. But the details would matter here; the Sallie Mae version might not even save the kind of money necessary for inclusion in reconciliation, while the SAFRA bill has already been scored. I’d call this a qualified victory for students at this point.

The House Budget Committee apparently will prep a reconciliation bill starting Monday, so things are moving forward pretty fast. The key element, of course: getting the votes.

UPDATE: Politico got a different sense of things, saying that the decision on student loans remained unsettled.

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David Dayen

David Dayen