College Trip: Obama Set To Hammer Congress on Student Loans
by Clint Akarmann | Stanford University
In an effort to spur momentum among college students, President Barack Obama will travel to campuses in three swing states on Tuesday and Wednesday. His aim? To pressure Congress into preventing a rise in student loan interest rates this coming summer. This comes at a critical point in the campaign season, as Obama sets to match up against presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney (who was quick to also extend his support for the lowered interest rates on Monday).
This latest saga over student interest rates traces its roots back to 2007, when Congress voted to lower the interest rate on federal student loans to 3.4% for the next five years. Now, in 2012, the deadline (June 30) is closer than ever, with no clear signs that Congress will take action on the issue.
The main opponents of an extension of the interest rate cut include some of the most fiscally-conservative Republicans, who oppose extending cuts without concurrently lowering spending. All in all, the cost to taxpayers will be $6 billion per year, while the downside to letting the cuts expire is that an expected 7 million college students taking out loans will soon face a doubling of the interest rate to 6.8% (adding more than $1,000 to the cost of an average loan).
President Obama’s first stop will be with the Tar Heels at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Braving the elements in hopes of securing a spot to the highly-anticipated speech, students at UNC expressed high interest in the message and timing of the President’s speech, especially given its direct relevance to hundreds of thousands of students. Obama’s appearance comes just a few months after protests were held against tuition increases by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.
Obama’s second stop will be at the University of Colorado at Boulder, marking just the second time that a sitting President will have visited the university. In a college town that was just recently in the spotlight for the 4/20 “crackdown,” political tensions are set to run high, with protests from both left and right-wing groups planned.
The final stop on this whirlwind tour will take the President to the University of Iowa, in a state that helped initially propel Obama to the White House back in 2008. Long lines for tickets were again reported, as students seemed to be very receptive to the President’s message.
From a political standpoint, it is no surprise that President Obama has begun to pound the theme of extending the interest rate cuts. For many observers, it is akin to rekindling the “Yes We Can” spirit of 2008, with students again serving as the primary feeders of momentum.
Mitt Romney recognized this quite quickly, and his statement on Monday reflects his desire to not serve as an antagonist on this issue. What remains to be seen is how Congressional Republicans (especially members of the Tea Party) will respond. Will they fall in line with the presumptive GOP nominee, or continue to follow their own stringent beliefs, almost certainly harming Romney’s prospects with young voters as a result? While President Obama’s campus visits may garner the most attention, the debate that plays out in the halls of Congress may have the more lasting impact come November.Clint Akarmann is a NGJ Editor and current freshman at Stanford University. He is interested in majoring in economics and enjoys following politics and current events while also spending time with his friends and family.