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Obama presses Congress on student loan interest rates

April 21, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • President Obama waves to the crowd after a ceremony at the White House on Friday.
President Obama waves to the crowd after a ceremony at the White House on… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)

President Obama used his weekly video address to launch what will be a weeklong push on the issue of college affordability, pressing lawmakers to act to prevent a sharp increase in interest rates for student loans.

The president noted that at a time of economic distress, a college degree has never been more important. But "it's also never been more expensive."

"In America, higher education cannot be a luxury. It's an economic imperative that every family must be able to afford," Obama said.

Legislation passed in 2007 temporarily halved the interest rates for Stafford Loans from 6.8% to 3.2%. If Congress does not act to extend the lower rates by July 1, as many as 7 million families could face higher payments, the White House estimates.

The issue is not on the congressional front burner at the moment. But for the president, the policy push gives him reason to travel to college campuses in a trio of November battleground states next week: North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa.

Obama will also take his pitch to a national television audience, albeit at a late hour. He'll be on NBC's "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" from North Carolina on Tuesday.

The president fit the college affordability push into his larger agenda centered on economic fairness.

"We've got to build an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. That's how the middle class gets stronger. That's an economy that’s built to last. And I'm not only going to take that case to college campuses next week -- I'm going to take it to every part of the country this year," he said.

Republican Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, said in a statement that he has "serious concerns" about any plan that "kicks the can down the road and creates more uncertainty."

"My colleagues and I are exploring options in hopes of finding a responsible solution that serves borrowers and taxpayers equally well," he said.

The Republicans' weekly address focused on gas prices. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri attacked Obama for focusing on "gimmicks" like the so-called Buffett Rule "that would do nothing to jump-start jobs or lower fuel prices for average Americans who are really struggling to make ends meet."

Blunt called on the Obama administration to stop blocking the Keystone XL Pipeline, calling it the nation's "largest shovel-ready project."

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