This story has been updated.
Two Republican members of Congress are striking back at President Obama for personally targeting them in recent speeches about keeping student loan rates low.
Both claim Obama misrepresented them in citing comments suggesting they oppose keeping student loan rates at 3.4 percent, rather than allowing them to revert to 6.8 percent on July 1.
It is somewhat unusual for a sitting president to single out individual rank-and-file members of the opposition party for criticism and scorn in public speeches, and both rejected his comments Thursday.
Obama’s pointed criticism of Republicans over the student loan issue is prompting legislative action — Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) announced late Wednesday that the House will vote Friday to keep rates low, paying for the $5.9 billion proposal by siphoning money from the federal health-care law’s preventive health-care fund.
Democrats will surely oppose the effort to cut funding for the health-care law. The Senate will vote the week of May 7 on a Democratic alternative that would pay for the loan program by imposing new payroll taxes on some small businesses with more than $250,000 in earnings.
On Monday, Obama mocked Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), once in a speech in her home state and again in a speech in Colorado for saying that those with student debt are sitting on their butts having opportunity dumped in their lap.
“I’m going to quote this because I know you guys will think I’m making it up,” Obama said at the University of North Carolina. “She said she had ‘very little tolerance for people who tell me they graduate with debt because there’s no reason for that.’”
But Obama dropped a few words from Foxx’s comment on the G. Gordon Liddy radio show. Foxx told Liddy she had “very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that” — apparently limiting her comments to those who take on large amounts of debt for school.
She went on to say that she reminds people that the Declaration of Independence promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — stressing the word “pursuit.”
“You don’t sit on your butt and have it dumped in your lap,” she said.
“The only thing I would say is that I wish the president’s speech writers would get their quotes right,” Foxx said Wednesday of Obama’s barb.
She declined to address the broader student loan issue.
Obama had a similar back-and-forth Wednesday with Missouri Rep. Todd Akin (R), who represents the St. Louis suburbs and is one of three Republicans competing to challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in November.
At the University of Iowa, Obama said, “You’ve got one member of Congress who compared these student loans — I’m not kidding here — to a ‘stage-three cancer of socialism.’”
“Stage-three cancer? I don’t know where to start. What do you mean? What are you talking about? Come on. Just when you think you’ve heard it all in Washington, somebody comes up with a new way to go off the deep end,” he said.
Though Obama did not name him, that was a reference to a comment from Akin in a debate with the Republican senate candidates Saturday. Asked about the student loan issue, Akin slammed the government for taking over college loans in a 2009 bill.
“America has got the equivalent of the stage-three cancer of socialism because the federal government is tampering in all kinds of stuff it has no business tampering in,” he said. “So first, to answer your question precisely, what the Democrats did to get rid of the private student loans and take it all over by the government was wrong. It was a lousy bill. That’s why I voted no. The government needs to get its nose out of the education business.”
In a statement, Akin objected to Obama’s paraphrase.
“With all due respect, the president misquoted me. I was not saying that student loans are a cancer. I referred to the policies where there is a government takeover of private industries,” he said.
Akin said he suspected that “the president was given a misquotation” of what he actually said.
But, he added, “I am sure we have a fundamental disagreement on the role of government and what constitutes socialism regarding current public policy.”
For his part, Boehner also blasted Obama for devoting government resources to political attacks on the issue, noting that it costs $179,000 per hour to operate Air Force One as Obama travels to politically-themed events.
“Frankly, I think this is beneath the dignity of the White House,” Boehner told reporters Thursday. “Democrats and Republicans knew that this was going to take effect. Democrats and Republicans fully expected this would be taken care of, and for the president to make a campaign issue out of this and then to travel to three battleground states, and go to three college campuses on taxpayers’ money to try to make this a political issue is pathetic. And his campaign ought to be reimbursing the Treasury for the cost of this trip.
“Our country’s facing some major economic and fiscal challenges,” the speaker added. “Yet here’s the president wasting time on a fake fight to try to gain his own reelection. These are the types of political stunts and frankly they’re not worth it and worthy of his office. This is the biggest job in the world, and I’ve never seen a president make it smaller.”
Staff writer Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.