The president took advantage of that opening in his remarks Tuesday, drawing attention to Republican lawmakers’ — and Romney’s — support of deep cuts to the federal budget.
Obama also called on Congress to extend a tuition tax credit he pushed when he first took office to safeguard financial aid for low-income students, such as the Pell Grant program, and to double the number of work-study jobs available over the next five years.
President Barack Obama tells college students that he and his wife, Michelle, know what it's like to owe student loans because the two of them didn't come from wealthy families. Obama is on a tour promoting low rates for federal student loans.
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“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” the president said.
Obama’s decision to push the student loan issue fits in with a larger contrast his campaign is trying to draw with Romney and Republicans — that he is more focused on the concerns of the middle class while his opponent wants to gut popular federal programs in order to extend tax cuts for the rich.
“Do we want to keep tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, or do we want to make sure they’re paying their fair share?” Obama asked. “Do we want to keep subsidizing Big Oil, or do we want to make sure we’re investing in clean energy? Do we want to jack up interest rates on millions of students, or do we want to keep investing in things that will help us and help them in the long run?”
A week after he prompted headlines with the comment that he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the president drew yet another contrast with Romney’s privileged background by noting that he and the first lady, Michelle, did not finish paying off their student loans until eight years ago.
According to the White House, the average student loan debt is $25,000 and on the rise and Americans now owe more tuition debt than credit card debt. Obama’s proposal would affect 7.4 million students, saving them an average of about $4,000 over the lifetime of four years’ worth of federally subsidized Stafford loans.
The rates on those loans were reduced to 3.4 percent in 2007, but they are scheduled to double for new loans on July 1. Democratic lawmakers in both chambers have proposed bills that would extend current rates another year, but some Republicans have resisted the $6 billion price tag.
Senate Democrats plan to push legislation to extend the lower loan rates during the week of May 7, but some Republicans have indicated opposition to a Democratic suggestion to pay for the bill by ending a payroll tax exemption for some small businesses.
Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman in Washington contributed to this report