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Obama seeks passage of college aid legislation

WASHINGTON - With health care dominating House action, President Barack Obama was looking for another domestic policy victory yesterday - passage of a vast rewrite of college aid for needy students.

The legislation, piggybacked to the expedited health care bill, would end a four-decades old program and its reliance on private lenders. It would authorize the government to originate all assistance loans and would use the savings to increase Pell Grants to students.

In the biggest piece of education legislation since No Child Left Behind nine years ago, the bill would direct more than $40 billion over 10 years into higher education, with $36 billion going toward the popular but financially strapped Pell Grant program. Historically black colleges and community colleges also would receive a share of the money.

If the House approves it, the Senate would take it up next week under the same expedited rules used for health care legislation. The Senate could pass the education measure by a simple majority, virtually guaranteeing its success despite qualms from some Democrats and opposition from Republicans.

The House passed the bill last year, but it failed in the Senate, where it did not have 60 votes to overcome a near-certain filibuster. By riding shotgun on the fast-track health care bill, the legislation now can avoid that obstacle.

Private lenders have conducted an all-out lobbying effort against the bill, arguing it would cost thousands of jobs and unnecessarily put the program in the hands of the government.

By directing the government to originate loans, the legislation would see savings totaling $61 billion between now and 2019, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. - AP

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