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Obama again serves up contested claims on loans, women’s health

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President Obama trained his fire on Republicans during in a speech at an Arlington, Va., high school Friday, the day before he officially kicks off his re-election campaign.

In his remarks to Washington-Lee High School seniors and juniors and their parents on a looming hike in subsidized student loans rates, Mr. Obama contended some Republicans opposed the lower rates and did not mention the fight on Capitol Hill was over how to pay for the $6 billion program.

As in remarks last week talking up the student loan clash, Mr. Obama told students of an unnamed Republican who, when talking about the idea of keeping loan rates low for college students, "warned about a Stage Three cancer of socialism" and another who attacked the program as "a free education" for students.

"I don't think it's fair when they suggest that students like you should pay more because of increased deficits," he said. "...We paid for two wars with a credit card, we gave tax cuts to people didn't needed it and didn't ask for it...and they want you to pay an extra $1,000 a year for college? Oh no, that doesn't make sense."

If Congress doesn't act by July 1, interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans, will go from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

The House Republicans version of the bill, which passed on a bipartisan vote in late April, would slash a catch-all prevention fund that states and cities are using for anti-obesity and smoking cessation campaigns, among other things, from President Obama's 2010 health care law and use the savings over the next decade to pay for a one-year extension of the student loan subsidies.

Senate Democrats have backed an alternative that would cut tax breaks for oil and gas companies — an option that has been repeatedly defeated in both chambers.

The White House has vowed to veto the House-passed bill, arguing that slashing the catch-all prevention program would cut programs aimed at women's health, a claim Republicans dispute. But the administration has not provided its own plan to pay for the loan subsidies.

Earlier this week, independent watchdog group Factcheck.org said Mr. Obama was "greatly exaggerating" with his claim that women in particular would benefit from the prevention fund that the House GOP proposes to repeal.

"The truth is the fund in question wasn't set up specifically for women's health programs, and we could find no concrete evidence that it has paid anything to gender-specific health programs so far," Factcheck.org said in a report, although the organization said two different government health agencies have requested tapping the fund could pay for women's health programs, for a national breast and cervical early detection program and a community-based program to encourage breast-feeding.

The president also failed to mention that in February, Democrats agreed to a $5 billion cut in the fund to help pay for extending a payroll tax cut and delaying a reduction in Medicare payments to physicians.

Mr. Obama told the high school students Friday that Republicans are only going to prevent the student loans from doubling if they can "cut things like preventative health care for women instead."

"We shouldn't have to choose between women having preventative health care and young people keeping their student loan rates low," Mr. Obama said, urging the students to send a message to Congress by calling, and emailing their Congressmen, or by tweeting under the hashtag #don'tdoublemyrate.

Republicans accuse Democrats of drumming up a fake election-year fight to distract young people from the high unemployment levels and bleak jobs outlook. Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama's presumptive opponent this fall, said he supports finding a way to keep the student loan rates from increasing.

"Fearful that young people might start to wonder why they need relief in the first place, Democrats have turned the college loan issue into yet another fake election-year fight," Sen. Mitch McConnell said this week. "The goal is to distract young people from the fact that they're suffering disproportionately under this president's policies."

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