Today, during an exchange with reporters, Mitt Romney had some nice things to say about Paris. That’s commanding a lot of attention already on Twitter and elsewhere.
But this quote from Romney, in which he offered his support for the push to extend low interest rates on student loans — something Obama has been championing — is far more important:
I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans. There was some concern that would expire halfway through the year. I support extending the temporarily relief on interest rates...in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.
And so the pivot is underway. At his press availability today, Romney had not even been asked about the student loan push — yet he deliberately went out of his way to clarify his support for the extension, anyway.
This would seem to put Romney at odds with Congressional Republicans. Obama has launched an all-out push to get Congress to extend a provision of a 2007 law that is set to expire on July 1st — doubling the interest rate for nearly eight million students each year. Congressional Republicans are expected to oppose it along party lines, arguing that the extension represents a fiscally irresponsible effort to buy the youth vote. But now Romney appears to have come out for it.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for John Boehner, denied that Romney’s position is necessarily at odds with that of House Republicans, telling me that Congressional GOPers are still committeed to finding a way to extend low interest rates. But asked if Republicans supported Obama’s push to extend the law immediately, Steel wouldn’t say.
And Romney’s stance does seem at odds with that of Republicans like Rep. John Kline, the chair of the House education committee, who said recently: “We must now choose between allowing interest rates to rise or piling billions of dollars on the backs of taxpayers.”
Romney laid down a harder line against government help with student loans during the primary. In March, a high school senior from Ohio asked Romney at a town hall meeting what he would do to help students pay for college. Romney replied: “It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that...don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”
But the student loan fight is one that seems tailor made for Obama to use against Romney. The GOP candidate claims that instead of favoring government activism to combat inequality, we should simply unshackle the private sector and allow it to create opportunity for everyone. The student loan fight gives Obama and Dems a good way to call the GOP’s “opportunity” bluff,” by asking why Republicans who claim expanding opportunity is the real way to combat inequality refuse to support government action that will facilitate it.
At any rate, at a time when Romney is making an aggressive bid for the youth vote, arguing that Obama is responsible for the unemployment travails of recent college grads, it appears Romney has decided he can’t afford to oppose extending the low interest rates Obama is pushing for right now.
UPDATE: Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith responds:
Mitt Romney continues to make promises that he can’t keep. While he previously endorsed the Ryan budget, which would make deep cuts to Pell Grants and allow student loan rates to double, and last week said that he would gut the Department of Education to pay for his tax plan, today we heard yet another—and contradictory — position from Romney on student loans. As the list of promises Mitt Romney has made to the American people gets longer — from giving $5 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans to claiming that he would balance the budget — the numbers just don’t add up.
The real question is whether Mitt Romney is being honest about his agenda and if so, whether he will come clean about the necessarily painful cuts he would have to make to meet all of his promises.