President Barack Obama, a Democrat, wants Congress to extend a student loan interest rate cut set to expire in July; Mitt Romney, the odds-on favorite to head the Republican ticket opposing Obama in November, agrees. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican considered a likely running mate for Romney, is pushing a bill that would allow young illegal immigrants to remain in the United States legally under certain conditions; Romney refuses to say whether he supports it despite having privately endorsed it. What gives?
The answer, of course, is politics. Romney, thinking he now has the GOP nomination in the bag, is trying to straddle the political divide, moderating his tone for the general election without alienating the Republican base that must turn out on Election Day if he is to prevail over Obama.
Obama has decided to push the student loan issue as a way to drum up excitement for his candidacy among young voters, most of whom still support him but — perhaps having been disappointed in his administration’s relative continuity with that of George W. Bush — are considerably less eager to show up at the polls to vote for their man than they were four years ago.
The interest rate on Stafford loans is currently 3.4 percent, down from 6.8 percent in 2007, when the Democrat-controlled Congress passed a law gradually reducing rates through this year. The rate, however, is set to return to its 2007 level in July if Congress does not reauthorize the cut.
Obama is asking Congress to do just that, arguing that allowing the rate cut to expire would add nearly $1,000 a year to the debt of each of 7.5 million students. He made a pitch for it in his weekly radio and Internet address and is campaigning for it in person at universities and on NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
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Photo: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), left, with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a news conference prior to a town hall-style meeting in Aston, Pa., April 23, 2012.: AP Images