This week's White House schedule underscored the president's willingness to use student loans as a blunt political instrument. He planned a Monday conference call on the subject with local officials and student leaders, Vice President Joe Biden was discussing it Thursday at the White House with students and others, and top administration officials were holding student loan events in at least nine states.
Republicans were giving as well as they got.
In a written statement, Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the student loan issue was a phony fight designed by Democrats as a distraction for young people who "can't find good jobs in the Obama economy." Others also called it a charade.
"It seems like once a week, they begin the week by turning the Senate into a political playpen for the presidential race," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., sponsor of the GOP student loan measure, said in an interview. He added, "I certainly don't support the idea of raising taxes on small business men and women at a time when we're trying to grow jobs."
On April 27, the House approved a student loan measure similar to the one by Senate Republicans. House leaders scheduled that vote soon after Mitt Romney, the likely GOP presidential nominee, built pressure on them by saying he favored extending the current loan interest rates.
If the loan rates rise to 6.8 percent on July 1, it would affect more than 7.4 million students expected to seek subsidized Stafford loans in the year running through June 2013. The Department of Education projects those students will borrow $31.6 billion, averaging $4,226 apiece.
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