Student loans: Romney, congressional GOP race to embrace students

As President Obama puts a spotlight on student loans, Mitt Romney says that he, too, supports extending the 3.4 percent interest rate – and blames the president for poor job prospects for college graduates.

Butch Dill/AP/File
In this August 2011 file photo, Students attend graduation ceremonies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. President Obama can take credit for putting the national spotlight on the issue of federally subsidized student loans, while Mitt Romney says that he, too, supports extending the 3.4 percent interest rate, set to increase at the beginning of July.

College students may not have quite joined motherhood and apple pie in the pantheon of bulletproof American icons quite yet – but the speed at which Republicans raced to join Democrats in talking about college education (and young voters) suggests that the political apotheosis of the college student is well on its way.

Democrats can take credit for putting the national spotlight on the issue of federally subsidized student loans, whose interest rates are set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent at the beginning of July. President Obama’s campaign has been shining its bright light on the issue since last Friday, an emphasis that coincides with the president’s trips to universities in North Carolina and Colorado Tuesday and a college stop in Iowa Wednesday.

Republicans, who may sense a chance to chip away at Mr. Obama’s massive advantage among young voters from 2008, weren’t going to be left behind. On Monday, GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney said he supported an extension of the lower loan rates.

But, as is the wont of both political parties, simply agreeing with one’s opponent is simply not enough. So the GOP knew what to do when the Associated Press published a report showing that nearly 50 percent of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus tweeted that the piece revealed the “Sad reality of Obamanomics” –  that “young Americans are learning there aren’t jobs for them after graduation.” House majority leader Eric Cantor chimed in similarly. And Rep. Tom Graves (R) of Georgia took to Twitter to wonder, “will they vote for Obama in 2012?” given such poor employment figures.

Mr. Romney, too, jumped on the pile while campaigning in Pennsylvania. “When you look at 50 percent of the kids coming out of college today can’t find a job or can’t find a job which is consistent with their skills,” he said, “how in the world can you be supporting a president that’s led to that kind of an economy?”

Tuesday dawned with a Romney campaign conference call highlighting some of the party’s own young people – 30-year-old Rep. Aaron Schock (R) of Illinois and Alex Schriver, chairman of the College Republican National Committee – to discuss how poorly young Americans have fared under Obama.

That led the liberal "super political-action committee" American Bridge to splice together this highlight reel of Romney telling various college students all the ways they should either pay for college or choose a college, none of which involve his support for subsidized student loans.

“I know that it would be popular for me to stand up and say, ‘I’m going to give you government money to help pay for your college,’ ” Romney says in one clip. “But I’m not going to promise that.”

What remains to be seen, however, is whether congressional Republicans will make that promise. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said the upper chamber will take up legislation that would keep interest rates down in two weeks, when the Senate returns from its next scheduled home work period.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa told reporters on a conference call Monday that a key sticking point in the Senate was determining where to find the $6 billion necessary to continue lower rates for a year. Senator Harkin said he hoped to have a draft proposal for such a measure completed by Friday.

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