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Obama tells students he, first lady paid off college loans 8 years ago

President 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 campaigns see 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 student debt has become so staggering it exceeds the total 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 hadn't finished paying 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.

Late Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduced legislation that would keep the interest rate for subsidized loans for poorer and middle-class students at the current level for another year at a cost of $5.9 billion. 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.

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?"

Under the Democratic plan, the measure would be paid for by 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. The measure would apply to such companies with incomes over $250,000. The higher payroll taxes would also be required for some law firms, doctors practices and other professional services partnerships.

Congressional Republicans, however, were panning the idea of paying for the student loan plan with higher payroll taxes on those companies' owners.

Romney said this week that he agrees the loan rates shouldn't be raised, coupling that stance with criticism of Obama's economic leadership.

Some conservatives denounced Romney for matching Obama's position on student loans. "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.

Before Obama spoke later in the day at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he sought out students in a likely place to find them -- a bar. He stopped in Boulder at "The Sink," shaking hands with young people enjoying beers and burgers.

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