MAKING STUDENT LOAN REFORM POSSIBLE…. This should be a no-brainer. The student-loan industry is getting government subsidies to provide a service the government can perform for less. Obama can remove the middle-man, streamline the process, save taxpayers a lot money, and help more young people get college degrees.

Lobbyists, Republicans, and Democrats with the student-loan industry in their districts not only oppose reform, but have the votes to sustain a filibuster to prevent the changes from passing. It’s why there were two key angles to the reconciliation breakthrough this week. The first, obviously, was health care. But the second was making student-loan reform possible, too.

The procedural shortcut, known as reconciliation, would make it far easier to pass Obama’s student loan plan — which has drawn opposition from lawmakers in both parties — as well as his proposal to expand health coverage for the uninsured. Reconciliation bills are tax or spending measures that cannot be blocked by filibuster, meaning the Senate needs only 51 votes to pass them instead of the usual 60. Democrats hold 58 Senate seats.

Supporters of Obama’s agenda cheered the agreement. In a conference call with reporters, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called it “a very, very encouraging sign” that Congress will act to “transform the educational opportunities of millions of students for years to come.”

Before this week, the biggest hurdle for changing the system has been Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska, a conservative Democrat who has vowed to do whatever it takes to derail the White House plan to streamline the federal student-loan program. For Nelson, government subsidies for private student lenders is a key industry in Nebraska, and with him working with the GOP on this, the chances of overcoming Republican obstruction with 60 votes was almost impossible.

This week, the president found a way to go around Nelson. Here’s hoping it’s not the last time.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.