Ben Nelson has been carving out an interesting career niche for himself lately. What Joe Lieberman was to foreign policy, he's decided to become to domestic policy. And so you have odd spectacles like Nelson threatening to vote against Obama's pro-choice legal nominees and playing a key role in shrinking the stimulus and swearing to block efforts to use reconciliation for cap and trade legislation.
But that's largely garden variety conservatism. Nelson's position on student loans is, however, more of a parochial offense. Obama wants to save tens of billions of dollars by eliminating the middlemen. Study after study shows that they increase cost and add no value. But some of those middlemen are in Nebraska. And for all Nelson's deficit heroics, he's not so concerned about the debt that he'd harm a local industry. He's standing squarely against the reform. He'll be a hero to the private student loan industry. Or, at least, he would've been:
An agreement struck between the president and House and Senate negotiators won't give Nelson that chance. A process known as "reconciliation" allows budgetary measures to be moved through the Senate with a simple majority, rather than 60. Multiple congressional sources say that congressional Democrats have decided to use reconciliation to go after student-lending subsidies, specifically to get around Nelson.
Unlike health care, which will probably go through the normal congressional process, student loans probably will be changed using reconciliation. They require a relatively simple fix that lowers the deficit and is directly related to federal spending. It's exactly what the reconciliation process was designed to do.
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