Less than an hour after the Obama campaign kicked off a week-long push to attack Mitt Romney on college affordability, the Republican candidate took the wind out of their sails by supporting the White House’s push to extend subsidized lower interest rates on federal loans.
Without action in Congress, a 2007 bill keeping interest on loans held by some 7 million students at 3.4 percent versus 6.8 percent will expire. President Obama is speaking at three colleges on Tuesday and Wednesday to pressure House Republicans to act despite their wariness about a one-year fix’s $6 billion price tag. Obama’s re-election team held a conference call Monday focused on student loan debt and attacking Romney over proposed cuts to higher-education funding in the GOP budget.
“Gov. Romney has proposed huge tax cuts for the rich and for corporations, and that has left him with no choice but to support higher rates on student loans with deep cuts into Pell grant scholarships,” Obama campaign policy director James Kvaal told reporters on Monday.
But on the extension, at least, Romney said he was on the same page.
“Particularly with the number of college graduates that can’t find work or can only find work well beneath their skill level, I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” he said at a joint appearance with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in Philadelphia. “There was some concern that would expire halfway through the year, and I support extending the temporary relief on interest rates for students … in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.”
This is the kind of general election play, cutting directly against key House Republicans, that Romney would have had a tougher time making during a competitive primary.
Student debt, now over $1 trillion total and more than even national credit card debt, is considered a top issue for the Obama campaign as they try to re-energize youth voters who turned out for them in 2008. Romney, for his part, is hoping to minimize the damage from Democrats’ natural advantages with the under-30 set by emphasizing high unemployment.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.