- Associated Press - Monday, April 30, 2012

ANALYSIS:

In the political campaigns still taking shape, President Obama, Republican challenger Mitt Romney and lawmakers of both parties say they want to protect college students from a sharp increase in interest rates on federally subsidized loans.

Agree, they might, and act they surely will. But first, they settled effortlessly into a rollicking good political brawl.

In less than 72 hours, what might have looked like a relatively simple matter mushroomed into a politically charged veto showdown that touched on the economy and health care, tax cuts and policies affecting women.

“This is beneath us. This is beneath the dignity of this House and the dignity of the public trust that we enjoy,” protested House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, as he and Democrats both maneuvered for position.

Evidently not.

“It shouldn’t be a Republican or a Democratic issue. This is an American issue,” Mr. Obama said in North Carolina last week as he broached the topic of legislation in a move to gain support from students in the fall election. He urged his listeners to tweet their lawmakers and urge them to block an increase in interest rates on federally subsidized loans issued beginning July 1.

There was partisan pop behind Mr. Obama’s message, though.

Over two days of campaign-style appearances on college campuses, he quoted one unnamed Republican lawmaker as saying she had “very little tolerance for people who tell me they graduate with debt because there’s no reason for that.” Another Republican lawmaker likened student loans to “stage three cancer of socialism,” he said. Both Republicans quickly said they had been quoted out of context.

Within a day, Mr. Romney told reporters he agreed on the need to prevent the rate increase, while conceding nothing to Mr. Obama in the search for political advantage.

“I support extending the temporary relief on interest rates for students,” he said, and cited “extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market” in a jab at the president’s handling of the economy.

Congressional Democrats announced they would write legislation to prevent a doubling of the current 3.4 percent interest rate, and cover the $6 billion cost by requiring more wealthy individuals to pay Social Security and Medicare payroll tax.

It was a not-so-subtle reprise of a campaign perennial, the allegation that Republicans want to cut programs benefiting those who aren’t rich to protect tax cuts for those who are.

“Let’s be honest,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “The only reason Democrats have proposed this particular solution to the problem is to get Republicans to oppose it, to make us cast a vote they think will make us look bad to the voters they need to win the next election.”

He then accused Democrats of wanting to pay for the legislation “by raiding Social Security and Medicare, and by making it even harder for small businesses to hire.”

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