Philip Elliott reports for the AP:
[A] collection of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday renewed their push to keep rates low but also backed interest rates that were based on the markets. Their plan would base rates on a 91-day Treasury bill and allow the Education Department to add to that to pay for the administration of loan programs.
“The student loan interest rate offered by the government shouldn’t be needlessly high, it should be based on actual costs,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in introducing the plan.
The versions from both parties include a proposal that was central to Obama’s budget: interest rates would shift based on financial markets. …
Basing student loans on 10-year Treasury notes’ rates would, at least for now, offer a deal to some students. … That’s not to say, however, the rates would be a good deal forever. If Treasury increases its rates, students’ loan rates would rise, too.
For context, under the current system Congress sets the actual numerical interest rate on student loans – that’s why the rate is currently set by law at 3.8% and is (again) scheduled to rise to 6.8% on July 1. (Hence the growing focus on the issue at the moment.)
Reed’s bill would have Congress stop setting the rate by statute and start basing it on market movements instead, as outlined above. However – unlike similar proposals from President Obama and House Republicans – Reed’s bill would set a maximum cap on rates: 6.8% for subsidized loans and 8.25% for unsubsidized loans. It would also allow students to refinance their loans at a lower rate.
Why the cap? According to Reed, it’s necessary because someday interest rates will return to a higher level.
Reed’s staff says college graduates in the Class of 2007 would have paid almost 8% and the Class of 1981 would have paid almost 17% if the House GOP proposal had been law at the time. Using CBO economic forecasts, they project rates will be back above 8% by 2018 under the Obama/GOP proposals.
The White House and Republicans argue Reed’s proposal could raise costs for borrowers or force other taxpayers to subsidize student loans. “In order to have a cap, we would have to charge students more in order to hedge against the possibility that rates would go up to unmanageable levels in the future,” an administration official told reporters April 10.
While a capped market rate is Reed’s vision for a permanent fix on student loans, in the meantime he’s introduced a bill to freeze current rates for two more years while Congress comes up with a long-term resolution. “Some who claim it is important to avoid burdening our children and grandchildren with national debt are all too willing to bury these young people in student debt,” Reed said in a statement Thursday.
Reed isn’t the only local senator arguing for a fresh approach to student loans. Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday introduced a bill to let students borrow at the same rate that big banks get from the Federal Reserve’s discount window.
(photo: Manuel Balce Caneta/AP)