Mitt Romney and Ohio Gov. John Kasich talk with students during a round-table… (Jay LaPrete / Getty Images )
WESTERVILLE, Ohio -- Responding to President Obama's assault on Republicans this week over the cost of student loans, Mitt Romney sidestepped the issue on Friday as he urged young voters to think instead about the burden they will face in repaying the national debt.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee met with students at Otterbein University here in this suburb of Columbus as a counterpoint to Obama's visits this week to colleges in three other battleground states -- Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina.
Afterward, Romney told a campus audience that it was time "to get serious about not passing on massive debts to you guys -- to your generation."
"This is not something that you spend a lot of time thinking about," Romney said, with nearly four dozen students on stage as his backdrop. "You look at your student loans. But you should also have, in addition to your student loans, an understanding of the federal loans you've got, that you're going to inherit."
Romney assailed Obama and Democrats in Congress for government spending that he said would saddle young Americans with too much debt.
"My generation will never pay it back," Romney said. "We'll be dead and gone. That interest and that principal gets paid by you guys. And for year after year after year, your income taxes are going to include a very substantial amount to pay the interest on the debt we're accumulating now."
Unmentioned by Romney was the student-loan issue that Obama used as the centerpiece of his college visits: the doubling of the 3.4% interest rate on federal Stafford loans to undergraduates. Under current law, it is scheduled to rise to 6.8% on July 1, an increase that Obama has called for canceling.
Young voters were a pillar of Obama's support in 2008, and his effort to prod Republicans into blocking the rate hike is part of his drive to spur some enthusiasm among students for his reelection.
Romney recently agreed to support maintaining the current loan rate for millions of college students, which has caused him new grief with conservatives. A Wall Street Journal editorial on Friday called Romney's move a "pander to the youth vote."
"This must be the 'Etch A Sketch' version of Mitt that his campaign promised," the editorial said, alluding to Romney's pivot to the center after months of appeals to conservatives during the Republican presidential primaries.
Original source: Mitt Romney warns students about nation's mounting debt