Obama stresses own struggles paying student loans

CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina Tue Apr 24, 2012 5:27pm EDT

1 of 4. U.S. President Barack Obama smiles while talking about the rising costs of student loans in Carmichael Arena at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill April 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina (Reuters) - Describing his own struggle to pay off college debt and taking another dig at his likely White House rival's wealth, President Barack Obama sought on Tuesday to expand his advantage with young voters with a call to make education more affordable.

In a speech about rising education costs, a key theme of his re-election campaign, Obama said he knew firsthand how paying for university could hurt families and ding the economy.

"I didn't just read about this. I didn't just get some talking points about this. I didn't just get a policy briefing on this. Michelle and I, we've been in your shoes," the Democrat told students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"We didn't come from wealthy families. So when we graduated from college and grad school, we had a mountain of debt. When we got married, we got poorer together," he said, noting they only finished paying off their student loans about eight years ago.

Though Obama has talked about his modest background and his student loans before, his emphasis on wealth seemed designed as a swipe at Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, the multimillionaire son of a former auto executive and Michigan governor.

The Obamas attended some of the most expensive universities in the United States. The president went to Columbia University and Harvard Law School, and the first lady went to Princeton University and Harvard Law School. Romney also attended Harvard for law school and a graduate degree in business.

YOUTH ADVANTAGE

Obama's two-day trip, which includes stops in Iowa and Colorado - both states he hopes to win on November 6 - centers on his effort to get Congress to extend low interest rates on college loans to more than 7.4 million students.

If lawmakers fail to act, rates on the loans will double on July 1 to 6.8 percent - this at a time when other loans boast near record low rates. Obama called on Congress to act to prevent that from happening.

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, also urged Congress to act, while fitting in a dig at the Democrat as well.

"President Obama's failed leadership on the economy has led to the weakest recovery since the Great Depression, where 50 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed," he told reporters on Monday.

"Given the bleak job prospects that young Americans coming out of college face today, I encourage Congress to temporarily extend the current low rate on subsidized undergraduate Stafford loans. I also hope the president and Congress can pass the extension responsibly, that offsets its cost in a way that doesn't harm the job prospects of young Americans."

The back and forth comes as a new study shows Obama is gaining ground with young voters, who helped propel him to the presidency in 2008.

The White House says roughly 160,000 students in North Carolina will rack up some $1,000 in additional debt without congressional action. In Colorado, 167,000 students would suffer, while 7.4 million students nationwide would be affected.

Obama's re-election campaign dismissed Romney's support for congressional action, saying the former Massachusetts governor supported a Republican budget proposal that would result in higher student loan rates and fewer education grants.

Republicans insist that Democrats created the problem in the first place when they controlled Congress and passed a bill that cut rates on subsidized Stafford loans in 2007 but allowed them to revert back to higher levels after four years.

And a spokesman for Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner said federal student loan rates would also double in 2013 under Obama's budget.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

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Comments (8)
ObamaScare wrote:
Man makes crazy money, went to ivy schools, and pretends he couldn’t pay his loans. Nuts. He is going to go after Romney on finance, but the truth is all of those folks at that level are rich and out of touch with general populace. He didn’t pay off his loan because it didn’t make sense in his portfolio.

Apr 24, 2012 5:57pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
rodlee wrote:
dont believe him Obama is trying to get reelected just ask your self why now what about the last 3 years while he was on vacation why is he so interestewd in the youth of today is because young people are believed to not keep up with current events and can be easily swade with one liners dont be fooled by this guy he has not produced a single budget since he took office and he could have done anything he liked the first 2 years he had the house and congress in his court so if he really felt the pain for your education debt he was in marthas vineyard getting over it .

Apr 24, 2012 6:01pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
lucky12345 wrote:
Obama still could not define what fair is, when asked. Taxes should be about growth and reward, not redistribution. This is plain stealing from the successful and making the USA a nation of lazy, government dependent fools. OK, so families in the highest tax bracket pay about 20 Million dollars a year in taxes and families in the middle tax bracket pay about 16 Thousand dollars. Someone please do the math and then explain to me what is “fair”?

Apr 24, 2012 6:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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