As my colleague Kevin Glass reported this morning, President Obama has seen a dramatic 18-point drop in support among youth voters, one of his most enthusiastic blocs. So this week, in an attempt to woo back and reenergize this fleeing demographic, the president will take to the podium to tout a campaign pillar aimed squarely at young people: student loans.
Last month, I wrote about the looming interest rate hike on student loans. They will double on July 1st, from 3.4% to 6.8%, when the 2007 law that temporarily reduced the rates expires. The timing could not be better for the Obama campaign, which now has ammunition to use against the Republicans in the war for young people. And use it they will: the president is set to go on a three-(swing)-state tour touting an extension of the reduction to audiences of college students. He'll even be making his first appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, a show popular with...you guess it: young people. Naturally, the president's message will pit him against Congress, and it will be based on the truism that student loan interest rates are the biggest obstacle to making college affordable:
The president use his weekly radio address this weekend and a round of visits to large universities in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa on Tuesday to call on Congress to put forward and pass legislation to prevent the loan hike, White House officials told The Post late Thursday.
At each stop in the college tour, Obama will speak to students about the “critical need for Congress to act,” White House officials said.
“President Obama believes we must reward hard work and responsibility by keeping interest rates on student loans low so more Americans get a fair shot at an affordable college education,” the White House said in a statement.
The White House will also introduce a social media campaign -- watch for the Twitter hashtag, #DontDoubleMyRate -- along with the various stump speeches he'll be making, starting Tuesday. It's valuable, shallow political capital for the Democrats, as they'll take a very one-dimensional focus on Republican opposition to the measure, framing them as the enemy of the youth.
Naturally, the GOP has a difficult position to defend, since high student loan debt provokes a visceral reaction among the public. They argue that the extension is a short-lived, irresponsible policy that won't solve the loan crisis, but will inevitably drive us deeper into debt.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a one-year freeze on the interest rate for subsidized Stafford loans would cost $6 billion.
“Bad policy based on lofty campaign promises has put us in an untenable situation,” said John P. Kline Jr., the Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Extending the low rate would be too costly, Mr. Kline said. “We must now choose between allowing interest rates to rise or piling billions of dollars on the backs of taxpayers,” he said. “I have serious concerns about any proposal that simply kicks the can down the road and creates more uncertainty in the long run — which is what put us in this situation in the first place.”
Mr. Kline, who earlier this year called the interest-rate hike a “ticking time bomb set by Democrats,” said he was exploring other options in hopes of finding a solution that served borrowers and taxpayers equally well.
Back in 2007, 77 Republicans supported the measure to reduce interest rates, but the issue has landed sponsorship along blunt partisan lines this time. At face value, it looks bad for the right. Who could deny that student debt is a mounting problem in this country? After all, it now tops $1 trillion -- higher than credit card debt.
Yet it's important to look at what Kline says: this extension doesn't solve the problem, and in fact, only creates more trouble. After all, covering the cost of just a one year extension would likely result in a higher burden on the taxpayer, and if families are paying more in taxes, they have less money to put toward college funds...which means, students take more loans. It's cyclical.
Of course, it's hard to condense the long-term effects of kicking the student debt can into a sexy campaign slogan. However, a recent survey of millenials reveals that they're most concerned with unemployment and the deficit, and the battle over student loans is inextricable from the latter. Ultimately, this is a test of how much demagoguery America's youth is willing to swallow this time around. Will they fall prey to baseless idealism? Or will they realize that not much has changed in the last four years -- certainly not for the better?