Obama's proposal fixes the interest rate when the loan is issued, and caps loan payments at 10 percent of the borrower's discretionary income. The Republican proposal allows the rate to fluctuate every year, a provision that has prompted the White House to threaten to veto that bill.
Republicans also include an 8.5 percent cap on subsidized loans and a 10.5 percent cap on subsidized loans for graduate students or parents borrowing for their children.
Last year, in the heat of a presidential election, Obama took to the stump to cudgel Republicans moving slowly to address an identical imminent doubling of student loans. For their part, Republicans agreed to keep the rates low, but wanted to pay for it by slashing a program in the president's health care law, which was sure to produce a major political fight.
The time for Congress to figure this out is quickly waning. And already the political demagoguery has begun.
House Republicans passed a bill last week proposing that interest rates be determined by adding 2.5 percentage points to the market rates, a plan that is intended to raise revenue – around $3.7 billion in deficit reduction.
Democrats have roundly rejected this proposal, which they say raises rates too high, too quickly. Obama pledged to veto the Republican bill if it came to his desk.
The president plans to pressure Congress to prevent rates from increasing to 6.8 percent at an event with college students at the White House today.
But at least they're talking policy, which may lend itself to finally figuring out a long-term solution.
"I think the difference is an openness to a longer term solution and I think that stems from folks on the Republican side proactively looking to tackle it as opposed to reacting to it," said Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress.
Now may be the time when both sides are willing to engineer a long-term fix, but old habits die hard in Washington and short-term solutions prompted by looming deadlines seem like the only thing Congress can manage to accomplish.
"It feels like there is an opportunity that folks shouldn't let pass by here," Martin said. But she added that a short-term fix may be the most viable option as the clock winds down.