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Stop the presses: Bush, Congress make college more affordable

  • Story Highlights
  • Bush signs Democrats' bill that raises Pell grant, cuts rates on student loans
  • Law is a rare showing of Democrat-Republican cooperation in contentious time
  • But partisan fights over budget, children's health insurance looming
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Ed Henry
CNN White House Correspondent
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Move over Back off Blackwater.

Amid all the partisan backbiting here in Washington, Democrats and Republicans agree on at least one issue that might actually make college more affordable.

With little fanfare, President Bush on Thursday signed into law a Democratic bill known as the College Cost Reduction and Access Act that will slash college costs for lower-income students in two measurable ways: boosting Pell Grants from $4,310 to $5,400 and cutting interest rates for student loans in half, from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent.

Despite all of the acrimony over the war in Iraq and gridlock here on the home front on everything from immigration to children's health care, this is a rare moment when the president can share some credit with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.

Although Democratic leaders are getting hammered by their own liberal base for not being able to stop the war in Iraq, the college bill being signed into law means Democrats have under their belt three out of the "Six in '06" campaign promises they made last year -- in addition to increasing the minimum wage and passing more intelligence changes suggested by the 9/11 commission.

Democrats even got some kudos Thursday from Bush.

"I want to thank the Congress for answering the call. I appreciate your hard work on this piece of legislation and I'm looking forward to signing the bill," Bush said at a signing ceremony that featured him in the rare position of being flanked with smiling Democratic leaders -- and actually smiling back.

Imagine that. At a time when official Washington looks more and more out-of-touch with the rest of America -- just look at the new Gallup poll that shows "trust in many federal government institutions is now lower than it was in the Watergate era" -- both parties came together to help real people. People like Robert Garcia, whom the president singled out at the ceremony because a Pell Grant enabled him to make it to the University of Texas.

"The lowest grade he's made so far in college is B," said Bush, who was clearly in a joking mood. "That sets him apart from the president."

You're not kidding. On Wednesday, when the president was in New York promoting renewal of his signature education law, No Child Left Behind, he said this: "Childrens(sic) do learn when standards are high and results are measured."

But this is the bottom line question: Is this sudden burst of bipartisanship a harbinger of things to come or just a flash in the pan?

It's more likely to be the latter. The president has issued veto threats on various Democratic initiatives -- from expanding children's health insurance coverage to a hate crimes bill that would allow federal law enforcement agencies to help states prosecute attacks on homosexuals.

Not to mention looming showdowns over Democratic spending bills that the president has also vowed to veto, setting up the possibility of an ugly government shutdown a la the Clinton-Gingrich smackdown of 1995.

So just give it a couple of days. And then everything will be back to normal. Both sides fighting like cats and dogs and not much getting done. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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