- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2013

President Obama will call for a major rethinking of how Americans and the government pay for the costs of a college education as he takes a bus tour of the Northeast later this week, the White House said Tuesday, as he tries to revive his second-term agenda.

With stops planned at three colleges and one high school, Mr. Obama will use the slow August news cycle — when students across the country are heading back to school — to try to boost his plans.

“Just tinkering around the edges won’t be enough: To create a better bargain for the middle class, we have to fundamentally rethink about how higher education is paid for in this country. We’ve got to shake up the current system,” the president said in an email Tuesday to supporters touting the effort.

The White House was reluctant to provide details, but it promised that the president will go beyond the plans he laid out earlier this year. Mr. Obama in his email said what he’s about to propose won’t be popular with “some who’ve made higher education their business.”

He has chosen the middle of Congress’ five-week summer vacation, when lawmakers are at home and he can control the pulpit alone, to make his pitch.

House Speaker John A. Boehner’s office posted a blog entry Tuesday arguing that the president could better spend his time trying to create an economic climate for more jobs, saying that even while Mr. Obama is preparing for his bus tour, “his administration is making it harder for young Americans — and all other workers — to find a full-time job in his economy.”

Mr. Obama is scheduled to speak at the University of Buffalo and Henninger High School in Syracuse, N.Y., on Thursday, then speak at Binghamton University in New York and at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa.

Two years ago in August, Mr. Obama took a three-day bus tour of the Midwest, which at the time was viewed as the key battleground for the 2012 elections. The president used that trip to argue that he had made progress on rescuing the American economy from the recession.

Last year’s campaign season saw several more bus tours.

Throughout his tenure, the president has repeatedly blasted the rising costs of college.

During the 2012 election he said that he wanted to boost federal tuition assistance, and that he would punish colleges that continue to raise their rates by docking them some federal funding. In this year’s State of the Union address, he again said he would punish colleges by withholding an even broader set of federal funds.

But making major structural changes to the system is likely to require approval from Congress, where partisan gridlock has prevented most legislation from passing.

One exception was a bipartisan bill to let interest rates on federally backed student loans rise. Mr. Obama and congressional Republicans argued the previous system set an artificially low rate, and they overcame stiff opposition from some Democrats to finalize a deal that pegs rates to the 10-year Treasury note, though with a cap on the rate.

In signing that bill, Mr. Obama hinted he hoped to see the same coalition reassemble on future higher-education proposals.