Barack Obama pushes low-rate student loans
The timing is important because the rate will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1 without intervention by Congress, an expiration date chosen in 2007 when a Democratic Congress voted to chop the rate in half.
The loan rate freeze Obama and Romney are championing amounts to a one-year, election-year fix at a cost of roughly $6 billion. Congress seems headed that way.
Members of both parties are assessing ways to cover the costs and then gain the votes in the House and Senate, which is far from a political certainty.
All parties involved have political incentive to keep the rates as they are. Romney has said that he agrees the loan rates shouldn't be raised on the students, even while he has criticized Obama's economic leadership.
"Given the bleak job prospects that young Americans coming out of college face today, I encourage Congress to temporarily extend the low rate," Romney said in a statement.
Obama spokesman Jay Carney said it was "ironic" that a Republican could both back the interest rate freeze and support a budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that the White House says would double the rate to 6.8 percent.
Romney has said he is "very supportive" of the Ryan budget. At the same time, some conservative activists have denounced Romney's decision to match Obama's position on student loan rates.
"Mitt Romney is going to sell out conservatives in his party" to improve his chances in the November election, Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote in a blog carried by sites including Free Republic.
With Romney seemingly assured of sweeping the five Republican presidential primaries being held Tuesday, the former Massachusetts governor planned a focus on the general election with a speech in New Hampshire titled "A Better America Begins Tonight."
Ahead of the speech, Romney supporters said Obama's policies had hurt younger voters and questioned whether the president could garner the same amount of support as in 2008.
"Young people are sitting here three and a half years later and they're not better off," said Alex Schriver, chairman of the College Republican National Committee.
The president was also speaking Tuesday at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and then at the University of Iowa on Wednesday. All three schools are in states that Obama carried in 2008, and all three states are considered among the several that could swing to Obama or Romney and help decide a close 2012 election.
Both campaigns are fighting for the support of voters buried in college debt.
The national debt amassed on student loans is higher than that for credit cards or auto loans. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has estimated about 15 percent of Americans, or 37 million people, have outstanding student loan debt.
The bank puts the total at $870 billion, though other estimates have reached $1 trillion. About two-thirds of student loan debt is held by people under 30. Obama carried voters between the ages of 18-29 by a margin of about 2-to-1 in 2008, but many recent college graduates have had difficulty finding jobs.
That raises concerns for the president about whether they will vote and volunteer for him in such large numbers again.
Without mentioning her by name, Obama cited North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, quoting her from a recent radio interview with G. Gordon Liddy in which she said, "I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt."
Obama said allowing the interest rates to double this summer would hurt more than 7 million students, costing the average student $1,000 and amounting to a "tax hike" for those students and their families.
"Anybody here can afford to pay an extra thousand dollars right now?" Obama asked to jeers from the crowd. "I don't think so."
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