Washington (CNN) - Sen. Kent Conrad said Thursday he won an exemption for the state-owned Bank of North Dakota to continue making federally backed student loans under legislation that would alter the loan process.
He said the special treatment for the bank will be included in the budget reconciliation bill, which contains both fixes to health care legislation and changes to the way federally secured student loans are made.
Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said his state's bank deserves to stay in the student loan business because it both originates and services low-interest student loans.
"They are not like these other institutions that have created these problems," he said.
Democrats have criticized private banks for earning profits by making federally backed loans, while also pocketing a subsidy from taxpayers. Under the bill, the federal government would make the loans directly and keep any earned profits from the loans.
"This institution for many years has been the biggest provider of student aid in the state," Conrad explained. "North Dakota is a low-income state and, I think the reason I've been asked by virtually all the elected officials of North Dakota to defend the operations of the bank is because they are concerned it would reduce the availability of credit for kids to go to school."
Conrad said he is bracing for a backlash against the carve-out after seeing the public outcry over the special Medicaid payments Nebraska was set to get in the original health care bill.
"Sure I am," he said. "On the other hand, I have an obligation here representing the state I do, and this just happens to be an unusual situation. There's no other institution like it.
"Now I would say this. Any other state that wants an institution like this, they'd qualify, too."