Is the battle over student loans shaping up as a rerun of the payroll tax cut fight, which by all accounts badly damaged the GOP?

Consider the parallels. Just as in the payroll tax cut battle, there’s a looming deadline: On July 1st, interest rates on federally funded student loans is set to double. Barack Obama and Democrats, confident that the politics are on their side, are signaling that they intend to remain on offense on the issue.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders, apparently sensing that this a losing issue for them, have voiced varying degrees of support for extending the low rates. And just as in the payroll tax fight, they insist their only issue is about how to pay for the extension. Yet they won’t say what spending cuts they would favor to offset it.

Meanwhile, House conservatives — just as during the payroll battle — are beginning to signal that they oppose the extension, period, full stop. Check out this quote from GOP Rep. Todd Akin, who is running in a GOP primary for the right to take on Dem Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri:

Akin said the government should be out of the student loan market altogether. “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.

For Akin, federal help with student loan debt is an ideological nonstarter. If we start seeing more of this kind of thing from House conservatives, it could limit the maneuvering room GOP leaders need to reach a deal with Dems on how to pay for the extension they say they favor, in order to resolve this issue and put it behind them.

Even if Romney has voiced support for an extension, Dems will seek to use the impasse — should it drag on — to tar the GOP brand among young voters. They’ll also use it to make the case that Romney’s moderation on the issue is fake, that no amount of Etch-A-Sketching can erase the fact that he and his party are ideologically hostile to government help for students, and that they prioritize tax breaks for the rich and corporations over government investment in the future of the American people.

* Romney’s feigned moderation on student issues: The Obama campaign is out with a new video that highlights Romney’s support for cuts to Pell grants and his opposition during the primary to government help with student debt, another sign of Dem determination not to let Romney pivot on issues that matter to the all important youth vote.

* Romney’s victory lap: Steve Benen flags a key quote from Mitt Romney’s victory speech last night, a new rendition of his “I won’t apologize for America” nonsense:

We’ll stop the days of apologizing for success at home and never again apologize for America abroad.

There was a time — not so long ago — when each of us could walk a little taller and stand a little straighter because we had a gift that no one else in the world shared. We were Americans.

As always, the storyline is that Obama doesn’t want America to be exceptional. And as always, multiple news orgs looked the other way as Romney lied yet again about Obama apologizing forAmerica.

* Progressive challenger wins key House primary: Lawyer Matt Cartwright has defeated longtime Dem incumbent Tim Holden last night in a redrawn Pennsylvania district in a race that is being closely watched by liberal bloggers as a referendum on whether unabashed progressives can help place Blue Dogs with establishment Dem backing on the road to extinction.

Cartwright will now face a local Tea Party Republican in a contest that national progressives will make a top priority.

* Labor ousts another Blue Dog Dem: Relatedly, Steve Kornacki on a challenger who defeated another conserva-Dem in Pennsylvania, Jason Altmire, who was heavily targeted as an example by labor for his vote against health reform.

* Obama allies launch ad hitting Romney over gas prices: Priorities USA Action is up with a new ad in Colorado and Nevada that hits Romney as the “$200 million man” who is “in the tank” for Big Oil — a reference to the amount the industry is expected to raise for Romney.

The ad, which is backed by a $1 million buy and is also funded by the League of Conservation Voters, underscores the urgency with which Dems are pushing back against GOP efforts to use high gas prices to deprive Obama for credit of the recovery — particularly in the west.

* Romney can’t Etch-A-Sketch himself on immigration: Dana Milbank on Romney’s frantic efforts to clean up his GOP primary positions on immigration, and why he won’t be able to erase the images left behind by Kris Kobach and Russell Pierce, who helpfully confirmed yesterday that Romney does see the Arizona law as a national model.

* Obama emphasizing humble beginnings: The Los Angeles Times and National Journal’s Tim Alberta both weigh in with takes on Obama’s new emphasis on his humble background and the delicate balancing act the Obama team has undertaken as it sets up an implicit contrast with Romney’s upbringing.

I’m going to say this again, because it keeps getting lost: The contrast in their story arcs isn’t just about politics; it goes directly to their policy dispute over how best to create opportunity, a central argument of the presidential race.

* Obama re-elect reality check of the day: A sobering big picture column from Harold Meyerson pointing out that even though Obama, and not Romney, is the one who grasps the long-term trends undermining American prosperity, Obama may well pay the price for them this time around.

* And ... yes we can? Andrew Rosenthal notes that Obama’s silence yesterday on the North Carolina gay marriage initiative and his failure to evolve on gay marriage “may keep his campaign managers happy, but hardly reflects the `yes we can’ attitude that got him elected.”

Indeed. What else?