Taking a page from President Obama's recent criticism of Wall Street bankers, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sharpened his rhetoric about the student loan industry in urging Congress to pass an overhaul of federal student aid programs during a telephone news conference with reporters Tuesday. Student loan providers "had a free ride from taxpayers for too long," Duncan said, calling for passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act that has passed the House and has been stalled for months behind health care legislation in the Senate. "It's a simple choice: subsidize banks or invest in children," Duncan said of the legislation, which would stop the origination of loans by banks and compel all colleges to participate in the department-run direct loan program. The administration would use savings from the change, which were originally estimated at $87 billion but have arguably shrunk since then, to increase Pell Grants, buttress community colleges, and invest in early childhood education, among other things. Lenders have challenged many aspects of the president's plan and have been working hard to win over enough Democratic senators to threaten passage of the legislation and build support for an alternative.
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