Obama Pushes Low-rate Student Loans, Wooing Young

By: Ben Feller, AP White House Correspondent
By: Ben Feller, AP White House Correspondent

Chapel Hill, NC (AP) - President Barack Obama went after the college vote Tuesday, pitching cheaper student loans as he courted the one age group where he has a decided advantage over Republican rival Mitt Romney. The twist? Romney, too, has endorsed the idea, though it's unclear whether deficit-leery Republicans in Congress will go along.

In the race for the White House, both the Obama and Romney campaigns see huge opportunities to court younger voters. This week, their efforts are focused on the millions of students - and their parents - who are grappling with college costs at a time when such debt has grown so staggering it exceeds the totals for credit cards or auto loans.

Trying to make it personal, Obama told students at the University of North Carolina that he and first lady Michelle Obama had "been in your shoes" and didn't pay off their student loans until eight years ago.

"I didn't just read about this. I didn't just get some talking points about this. I didn't just get a policy briefing on this," Obama said. "We didn't come from wealthy families. When we graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt. When we married, we got poor together."

Obama's emphasis on his personal experience set up a contrast with Romney, whose father was a wealthy auto executive. It's a point the president is sure to return to during this summer's campaigning.

Though both Obama and Romney have expressed support for freezing the current interest rates on the loans for poorer and middle-class students, lawmakers are still exploring ways to pay for the plan. 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 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.

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. Both parties have a political incentive to keep the rates as they are.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday, "I don't think anybody believes this interest rate ought to be allowed to rise." He added, "The question is how do you pay for it, how long do you do the extension."

One Democratic idea: Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the Education Committee, said the money would come from closing a loophole that lets owners of privately owned companies called S corporations avoid paying the Social Security and Medicare payroll tax on part of their earnings.

Romney said this week that he agrees the loan rates shouldn't be raised, coupling that stance with criticism of 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 keep the rate at 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.

By taking on student debt, Obama spoke to middle-class America and also targeted a growing economic burden that could hamper the national recovery.

While leaning on Republicans in Congress to act, he also sought to energize the young people essential to his campaign - those who voted for him last time and the many more who have turned voting age since then. Obama urged students to go to social media sites like Twitter to pressure their lawmakers to prevent the interest rates on the loans "from shooting up and shaking you down."

The blurring between Obama's official and campaign events emerged here in Tar Heel country, with Obama encouraging students to give him an "Amen" at times (they did) and the crowd also giving him an unsolicited chant of "Four more years!" On a blue-sky, breezy day, Obama soaked in the youth vibe on campus, where he also appeared in a taping of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."

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.

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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  • by 1stlttightwad Location: Quitman on Apr 29, 2012 at 08:34 AM
    Obama fails to mention that Romeney does not want to raise the interest rate for students loans EITHER. He conveniently forgets that......DOESN'T HE. Obama also forgets that college graduates finishing now only have a 1 in 2 chance of finding a job and those that do find a job are working for less. It's the ECONOMY STUPID..Wonder why all the other news items are popping up, womens rights, birth control, etc., It's so that the ecomomy won't be mentioned..Think of this...what if you and your family had not planned your budget for 3 years. Where would you be...Obama will go down in history as the ONLY president that NEVER, I reapeat NEVER SIGNED A BUDGET. Wow, what an honor..The last budget he proposed never made it to floor of the senate..Harry Reid told Obama that not ONE democrat would vote for it, so it was tabled(not brought up for a vote)..How's that for ya.
  • by Anonymous on Apr 26, 2012 at 08:58 PM
    Romney and his allies will spend $1 billion to try to get you to forget George W. Bush.
    • reply
      by Anon on Apr 26, 2012 at 11:35 PM in reply to
      Obama has spent 6.3 trillion in the last three years and I can't wait to forget him either.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Apr 27, 2012 at 06:27 AM in reply to Anon
        This is a good example of somebody who is completely clueless about federal spending, but will argue that federal spending is too much. How much is taken in in federal taxes each year? Everybody knows that the total national debt has increased roughly $5 trillion in the 3 and one quarter years of Obama's Presidency. The debt has increased because money has been spent that wasn't covered by revenue. So, how much is taken in in federal revenue each year? Duh.
        • reply
          by Anon on Apr 27, 2012 at 11:00 AM in reply to
          Don't increase federal revenue spending if you don't have money coming in to cover it. It is called a budget. Duh
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Apr 27, 2012 at 12:33 PM in reply to
          @Anon. You can't figure out how much the fed gov takes in in revenue. Yet you want to keep talking. You're a simpleton. It's called a budget when it allocates money, regardless of the money's source. It was called a budget during George W. Bush's term, when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, when more was spent than was taken in.
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Apr 27, 2012 at 01:17 PM in reply to
          @ Anonymous Are you so dim as to think "budget" means the same thing as "balanced budget"? It certainly does not.
  • by God Bless America on Apr 26, 2012 at 04:37 PM
    Great...Now when we turn to communism..he will tell you where to work and for how long..and what to wear. PEOPLE TO OBAMA...QUIT....VAMOOSE....
  • by Reagan Republican on Apr 25, 2012 at 09:43 PM
    Get this.... As the Illinois Senator, B. Obama missed the votes on the student loan interest bill that he now wants Congress to extend. The bill is called College Cost Reduction and Access Act and he missed the votes in 7/07 and 9/07. UNBELIEVABLE!
  • by Anon on Apr 25, 2012 at 03:57 PM
    Obama's clubbing in college towns to get the youth to vote for him. Does anbody that actually works for a living supports this guy?
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Apr 26, 2012 at 01:15 AM in reply to Anon
      70 million people voted for Obama in 2008. All of them were 18 or over and non-working. Good post.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Apr 26, 2012 at 04:00 PM in reply to
        70 million idiots.
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Apr 27, 2012 at 01:57 AM in reply to Anonymous
          60 million voted for Sarah Palin as VP. Speaking of idiots, I mean.
  • by Sarah Location: tallahassee on Apr 25, 2012 at 07:53 AM
    Bottom line is that young people are not taught responsibility and are not in a position to enter into debt for anything. My proof...the failed economy based on young people wanting things and going into debt without being able to aford their promises to pay back what they borrowed, starting with their college laons.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Apr 26, 2012 at 01:14 AM in reply to Sarah
      Remember when Ford taught us all responsibility by pardoning Nixon? 38 years ago. Those were the days.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Apr 26, 2012 at 08:53 AM in reply to
        all presidents have done this when leaving office.....selective memory?
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Apr 26, 2012 at 12:56 PM in reply to
          Ford was entering office, not leaving. So the former President was immunized from the justice system. Nothing says "2-tier justice system" more than pardoning the former President. The rich and powerful are not accountable to the justice system. Who is more powerful than the President?
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Apr 27, 2012 at 09:28 AM in reply to
          Ford was coming and going.....selective democratic memory
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Apr 27, 2012 at 12:36 PM in reply to
          @ Anonymously Why are you still talking? Ford was Prez for 2.5 years. Ford pardoned Nixon one month after Ford took office. There is nothing in US history like the pardon of a former US Prez for crimes committed while in office.
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Apr 29, 2012 at 06:18 AM in reply to
          don't make me bring clintons pardons into this.....
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Apr 29, 2012 at 10:13 AM in reply to
          @ Anonymous Ford showed us that the Prez was above the law. I don't think you understand. Clinton pardoned others, which has always been done. Clinton didn't pardon himself. Ford pardoned the Prez himself, for crimes committed while in office. Get it? Nobody has ever pardoned the Prez, except for Ford. No Prez has ever been pardoned, except for Nixon.
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Apr 29, 2012 at 10:50 AM in reply to
          @Anonymous Nixon was elected as the law and order candidate in 1968. He began the War on Drugs and first used that expression in 1971. Nixon and Ford meant "Law and order for little people and long prison sentences, too."
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Apr 29, 2012 at 11:21 AM in reply to
          @Anonymous Clinton didn't pardon himself. I'm not sure you're catching on. Nixon was the Prez. Ford was the Prez. Ford pardoned Nixon. No Prez except Nixon ever needed a pardon for crimes committed while in office. No Prez except Ford ever pardoned a former Prez for crimes committed while in office. If the Prez doesn't have to abide by the law and won't be punished if he doesn't, why should anybody else? The President is above the law. Nixon accepted the pardon so it's clear he was guilty of crimes and knew it.
  • by Anonymous on Apr 25, 2012 at 07:39 AM
    The purpose of austerity in the US is to nudge the fragile US economy back into recession and deny Obama a second term. The same folks who brought you George W. Bush are now sponsoring Master Reginald Romney Romney.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Apr 25, 2012 at 05:42 PM in reply to
      the same people also brought us Obama.....no difference in any of them......
  • by M on Apr 25, 2012 at 07:02 AM
    What an absolute joke! Obama is once again pandering to young Americans trying to create a 'hip' effect. I am in my 30s. I saw through Obama the first time. He has zero leadership ability. His economic policy and those economic advisors that he surrounds himself with are inept at creating sound business policy. His agenda focuses on handouts for those who will not work for themselves. He is creating a 'give me' generation. If young people vote for this lousy president then we all flounder in hog poop. Vote for growth and the encouragement of hard work and success. Kick this man out of the top role. He has failed miserably.
  • by EYES OPEN on Apr 25, 2012 at 06:15 AM
    So sad to see so many Americans fighting among ourselves while the elitists in both parties engorge themselves on our hard work. They have us just where they want us; half blaming Republicans and half blaming Democrats. Ask yourself what has changed in the past twenty years regardless of who is in the whit house. Both parties are power hungry big spenders and we are too stupid to realize it. Recessions come and go and are caused by the Federal Reserve and yet we sheeple softly baaaaaaaa as we are led to the slaughter.
  • by Anonymous on Apr 25, 2012 at 06:10 AM
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