WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama used his weekly video address to launch a weeklong push on the issue of college affordability, pressing lawmakers to act to prevent a sharp increase in interest rates for student loans.
The president noted that at a time of economic distress, a college degree has never been more important. But "it’s also never been more expensive."
"In America, higher education cannot be a luxury. It’s an economic imperative that every family must be able to afford," Obama said.
Legislation passed in 2007 temporarily cut the interest rates for Stafford loans from 6.8 percent to 3.2 percent. If Congress does not act to extend the lower rates by July 1, as many as 7 million families could face higher payments, the White House estimates.
The issue is not on the congressional front burner at the moment. But for the president, the policy push gives him reason to travel to college campuses in a trio of November battleground states next week: North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa.
Obama also will take his pitch to a national television audience, albeit at a late hour. He’ll be on NBC’s "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" from North Carolina on Tuesday.
The president fit the college affordability push into his larger economic platform.
"We’ve got to build an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. That’s how the middle class gets stronger. That’s an economy that’s built to last. And I’m not only going to take that case to college campuses next week – I’m going to take it to every part of the country this year," he said.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who chairs the Education and Workforce Committee, said in a statement that he had "serious concerns" about any plan that "kicks the can down the road and creates more uncertainty."
"My colleagues and I are exploring options in hopes of finding a responsible solution that serves borrowers and taxpayers equally well," he said.
The Republican weekly address focused on gas prices. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri attacked Obama for focusing on "gimmicks" such as the Buffett rule "that would do nothing to jump-start jobs or lower fuel prices for average Americans who are really struggling to make ends meet."
Blunt called on the Obama administration to stop blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, calling it the nation’s "largest shovel-ready project."