Washington (CNN) – Senate Democrats huddled in the Capitol Thursday afternoon to hash out the issue of whether to include changes to student loan policies in the same reconciliation bill that will include fixes to health care reform.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid emerged from the meeting to say that while a consensus among Democrats is forming, he does not expect a decision on the controversial issue today.
Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said more Senate Democrats support adding the student loan language than oppose it.
"There are some who think it complicates the ultimate vote. There are others who think it helps the ultimate vote. It's an honest difference of opinion," Durbin said.
The student loan legislation is a priority of President Obama and many Democrats on the Hill. It would remove private banks from offering student loans in favor of direct lending from the government.
Many Republicans and some Democrats oppose a government takeover of student loans and say it will cost jobs in many states where those private lending institutions exist.
The reason Democrats are considering adding the student loan language to the bill is because when the budget was passed last year, the student loan legislation was given the same special reconciliation instructions that the health care bill got, meaning it cannot be filibustered in the Senate.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a member of the Democratic leadership, was asked if lumping the two issues together would muddy the Democrats' message on health reform and fuel the pubic perception of a vastly expanding federal government.
"My own personal perception is, when we have thousands of kids on the street marching because they can't get into our universities and don't have the capability of pay for college, this is the best time for us to act," she said.
Despite marathon negotiation sessions to hammer out differences between the House and Senate visions of health care reform - that will be included the filibuster-proof reconciliation bill - Durbin said there are still "smaller substantive" items to resolve. He said senators were given a "general" presentation of what's expected in the reconciliation bill but some of those decisions can't be made until additional cost assessments come in from the Congressional Budget Office. It was not clear when those figures would be made available.
House and Senate Democratic leaders and White House aides are scheduled to continue their talks Thursday evening.