President Obama’s student-loan tour this week — jetting to North Carolina, Colorado, and Iowa — was a carefully scripted piece of political theater intended to hit on the youth vote, the economy, and education in one fell swoop while wrapping campaigning in an official-business package.
In North Carolina, he hit a conveniently placed Late Night with Jimmy Fallon set to make a few quips then talk about extending lower student-loan interest rates. In Boulder, he bought pizza at a beer dive and talked about not “pricing the middle class out of a college education.”
“We paid more for our student loans than we paid for our mortgage each month when we first bought our small condo in Chicago,” Obama told the University of Colorado crowd Tuesday night. “And we were lucky to land good jobs with a steady income, but we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago. Think about that.”
In Iowa, he sat down for a pooled press roundtable with five students — their extensive bios released by the White House in advance — who are receiving Stafford federal student loans.
While Obama may have been face to face with students, the intention was a face-off with Congress that would have been a nice jump-start to his summer campaigning. In 2007, Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act to lower interest rates on federal student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent, cuts that expire July 1.
It was perfect timing for Obama to go on the education stump while calling on Congress to pass an extension, for which Republican and Democratic bills had been lingering on the Hill.
But the second act belonged to congressional Republicans.
This afternoon, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that the lower chamber will vote this Friday on a one-year extension — paid for by killing an ObamaCare slush fund.
“You know, this week the president’s traveling the country on the taxpayers’ dime, campaigning and trying to invent a fight where there isn’t one, and never has been one on this issue of student loans,” Boehner said at a press conference. “We can and will fix the problem without a bunch of campaign-style theatrics.”
Meeting Obama’s tale this week of how long it took to pay off his student loans, Boehner said it took him seven years to work his way through college, “working every job I could get my hands on.”
“And what Washington shouldn’t be doing is exploiting the challenges that young Americans face for political gain,” the speaker said. “And it shouldn’t be sticking small businesses with a health care law that’s…making it more difficult for them to hire workers.
“Let’s fix the problems for young Americans, and leave the campaign theatrics for the fall.”
In the upper chamber, 14 Republican senators including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) today put forth the Student Loan Interest Rate Reduction Act, which also extends the 3.4 percent rate for a year paid for with money from the health care law.