WASHINGTON (AP) — The top Democrat in the Senate accused Republicans on Tuesday of caring more about the rich than about students as the chamber steamed toward a showdown over keeping student loan interest rates from doubling for 7.4 million students in July.

Firing back, the Senate Republican leader said Democrats were using the chamber to create campaign issues instead of addressing the nation's problems.

The sharp exchange came shortly before senators were scheduled to vote on whether to begin debating a Democratic plan to extend today's 3.4 percent interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans for another year. That effort was likely to fail, though there were hints the two sides might work out a procedural agreement that would let initial debate to proceed.

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