The White House has been mum on new Republican offers to break an impasse on student loans, and President Obama’s schedule on Thursday offered a reason for the stall: It gave Mr. Obama another chance to flog the issue on a college campus in the midst of a multimillion-dollar campaign-fundraising trip.
Mr. Obama visited the University of Nevada at Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon to call on Congress to “do its job” to prevent interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans from doubling on July 1. He’s been pushing lawmakers to find a solution for more than a month.
“The clock is running out,” Mr. Obama told students, without mentioning the GOP counteroffers floated just last week. “Some of these folks in Congress are a little stubborn. You’ve got to tell Congress, ‘Don’t double my rate.’ I need y’all to stand up.”
But Republican leaders in Congress sent the president several proposals May 31 to pay for the $6 billion cost of subsidizing student loans. Ever since, administration officials have been virtually ignoring the offers.
“The president has yet to respond,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Thursday. “One can only surmise that he’s delaying a solution so that he can fit in a few more campaign rallies with college students while pretending someone other than himself is delaying action.”
Whenever the president gets results from Congress, Mr. Carney said, “it has only ever come about when the president has made the case to the American people. And so that’s the approach the president is taking” Thursday.
Also on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, offered GOP leaders what he said was a “bipartisan” proposal to resolve the student-loan issue. One suggestion would involve changing the formula by which employers calculate their pension liabilities, resulting in businesses taking fewer tax deductions for pension contributions. The other option would be to increase employers’ premiums for insurance provided by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp.
Mr. Reid said both offsets would provide enough revenue to fund the student-loan subsidies and an extension of the stalled highway-funding bill, which some GOP lawmakers have targeted as too costly.
The speech on student loans at UNLV was Mr. Obama’s only “official business” on his two-day trip aboard Air Force One, along with five campaign fundraisers in California that netted him well over $5 million. Mixing business with campaigning allows the president to split the cost of the trip between his campaign and the taxpayers, rather than having his campaign fund pay for the entire trip.
“Of all the thinly veiled campaign events the president has held this year, this one takes the cake,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “The president has three common-ground options to resolve this issue sitting on his desk, but he’s deliberately ignoring them to justify this taxpayer-funded rally. It’s truly remarkable.”
Air Force One costs about $180,000 per flight hour to operate, meaning the cost of the two-day trip is nearly $2 million just to fly the plane. Campaign-finance experts say a president’s campaign is expected to reimburse the government for the cost of a first-class commercial airline seat for each person flying on Air Force One to or from a political event.
Republicans insist Mr. Obama is trying to exploit the student-loan deadline to curry favor with young voters, whom he needs to energize for the November election.
“Unfortunately, the president is more interested in campaigning for the students at UNLV then actually working with Congress to find a solution,” Mr. McConnell said. “Mr. President, open your mail. The solution’s right in front of you. The only people dragging their feet on this issue are over at the White House — dragging their feet to fit in yet another college visit.”
Mr. Obama held his fifth fundraiser of this trip Thursday morning at the Los Angeles-area home of Chuck Quarles, a real-estate developer.