President Obama hit the campaign trail on Tuesday to win back the vote from disaffected 20-somethings who have seen neither hope nor change during his term of office. Taxpayers are footing the bill for a three-state college tour to push Congress to lower interest rates on student loans.
The idea is to extend the current, artificially low 3.4 percent interest rate for Stafford loans which expires July 1 after five years. “There’s one specific thing that Congress needs to do right now to prevent the interest rates on federal student loans from shooting up and shaking you down,” he told students at the first stop, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “For each year that Congress doesn’t act, the average student with these loans will rack up an additional thousand dollars in debt.”
Instead of making the public pay for Air Force One, Secret Service advance teams, motorcades and hotels on this trip, Mr. Obama could have saved the public’s money by driving a couple miles eastward to lobby Capitol Hill lawmakers in person. They already agree with him.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, announced Tuesday that his party would introduce legislation within 24 hours to keep loan rates steady. He also claimed that it would include a pay-for, but wouldn’t say what that would be.
Despite Mr. Obama’s best efforts to make the issue a campaign conflict, Republicans aren’t biting. When asked by The Washington Times on Tuesday about Mr. Reid’s planned bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I don’t think anybody believes this interest rate ought to be allowed to rise. The question is how do you pay for it? How long do you do it for?”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney already said in a statement Monday that he supports temporarily extending the low rates because of “the bleak job prospects that young Americans coming out of college face today.”
To say the least, Mr. Obama has an uphill battle to convince the 66 percent of young people who voted for him in 2008 to support his re-election bid. Over half of college graduates under 25 find themselves unemployed or underemployed today.
In the last year, more of those with jobs worked as waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers rather than engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians, according to an Associated Press survey. In February, Pew Research found a quarter of 18- to 34-year-olds have been forced to move back in with their parents after living on their own.
The lousy economy has sent 35 percent of young college graduates back to school, adding to the massive, unpaid student-loan debt, which stands above $1 trillion. That’s more than Americans owe on credit cards. The average loan is $25,000, which is 25 percent higher than just 10 years ago.
The cost of education keeps going up because when Uncle Sam is picking up the tab, universities have no incentive to economize. Republicans have neutralized Mr. Obama’s manufactured campaign gimmick by going along with a one-year extension of rates. Ultimately, the solution is to get the government out of the student-loan business entirely and let the market take care of providing an affordable education.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.