WASHINGTON -- On Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic-backed bill to extend low-interest federal student loans as the two parties fought over how to fund the measure.
The 52-45 vote fell short of the 60-vote threshold required to advance debate on the bill. Maine's Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe voted present.
Both sides agree that the current 3.4 percent federal student loan rate should be extended for another year and have put forth competing legislation on how to fund the estimated $6 billion cost of the bill.
A failure to reach a deal by July 1 will result in the federal student loan rate doubling to 6.8 percent, affecting approximately seven million students nationwide.
The Democratic proposal paid for the loan extension by raising Medicare and Social Security taxes on high high-earning stock holders of private companies.
Last month, the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives passed its own version of the bill in a 215-195 vote, funded using money from a preventative care fund in the president's health care law.
The White House slammed the House bill, calling it a "politically-motivated proposal" that would eliminate critical funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings.
The Obama administration has argued that a failure to come to an agreement will result in a $1,000 average increase per student.
The average Minnesotan leaves college with about $29,000 in student loans, which means they spend the first years of their working career in debt.
"Students are finding it harder and harder to pay for college, and we have to do something about it," said Sen. Al Franken. "I think both sides at least recognize that raising the interest rate would be a mistake. I believe we can work something out.
Franken has been organizing informational sessions for parents at Stillwater Area High School to help them navigate the complicated process of paying for college. He also co-sponsored the bill to extend the low, 3.4 percent interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans.
While the higher interest rates would only apply to new loans taken out after July 1, Minnesota already ranks 4th when it comes to the amount of debt carried by students.