The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 8, 2013

Immigration, student loan top congressional agenda

(Continued)

A more pressing concern for some lawmakers was the fate of the five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill.

In a surprise last month, the House rejected the bill as 62 Republicans voted no after Boehner had urged support for the measure.

House conservatives wanted cuts deeper than $2 billion annually, or about 3 percent, in the almost $80 billion-a-year food stamp program while Democrats were furious with a last-minute amendment that would have added additional work requirements to food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Reid has made it clear that an extension of the current farm law, passed in 2008, is unlikely as he presses the House to pass the Senate version of the bill. That leaves Boehner to figure out the next step before the current policy expires Sept. 30.

Congress also must figure out what to do about interest rates on college student loans, which doubled from 3.4 percent last Monday because of partisan wrangling in the Senate.

Lawmakers promised to restore lower rates when they return this week, both retroactively and before students start signing loan documents later this summer. For now, the rate stands at 6.8 percent, which is higher than most loans available from private lenders.

Congress faces political and economic fights over the budget, with the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 and Congress plodding through spending bills with no sign they will be done on time. The House is set to vote this week on the spending bill for the Energy Department.

In addition to legislation to keep the government running, Congress probably will have to vote on whether to raise the nation's borrowing authority, a politically fraught vote that roiled the markets in August 2009.

Three Senate committees will consider Obama nominees for major national security positions this month, confirmation hearings certain to set off a political dust-up over the president's policies though the criticism is unlikely to scuttle the selections.

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