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Obama focuses on student loans in CU speech

9:09 PM, Apr 24, 2012   |    comments
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DECISION 2012 ELECTION COVERAGE

Obama crossed the nation, from the sunny skies of North Carolina to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, to sell his message to college students. Both stops, as well as the one he will make Wednesday in Iowa, came in states vital to his re-election bid.

He took the stage at the Coors Event Center just after 7:15 p.m. and pressed his goal to get Congress to prevent interest rates on student loans from doubling.

"We paid more for our student loans than we paid for our mortgage each month when we first bought our small condo in Chicago. And we were lucky to land good jobs and a steady income but we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago. Think about that. I'm the President of the United States," Obama told the crowd.

The timing is important because the rate will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1 without intervention by Congress, an expiration date chosen in 2007 when a Democratic Congress voted to chop the rate in half.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has estimated about 15 percent of Americans, or 37 million people, have outstanding student loan debt. The bank puts the total at $870 billion, though other estimates have reached $1 trillion. About two-thirds of student loan debt is held by people under 30.

Members of both parties are assessing ways to cover the costs and then gain the votes in the House and Senate. Both parties have a political incentive to keep the rates as they are.

The president said he only got where he is because of scholarships and student loans. He took a moment to pound on Republicans, painting them as bad for college students.
He read a quote he said was from a Republican congresswoman, without sharing her name.

"She said that she has, 'Very little tolerance for people who tell me they graduate with debt because there's no reason for that.' She said students who rack up student loan debt are just 'sitting on their butts having opportunity dumped in their lap,'" Obama said.

That stirred up anger in the crowd, but it also angers Republicans who say the president is misquoting her. The quote comes from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina).

In her radio interview, she said, "I have very little tolerance for people who tell me they have $200,000 in debt or even $80,000."

The president worked the crowd in a manner that was similar to his 2008 campaign. He made his pitch to the young voters in the room with a message of hope.

"I can work every single day as hard as I know how to make sure that you've got a chance, to make sure you can live out your hopes and your dreams. And I'm not about to quit now. We don't give up here in America," Obama said.

Obama arrived in Colorado on Tuesday afternoon when Air Force One landed at Buckley Air Force Base just before 5:30 p.m. He then took a helicopter to Boulder.

Backers are worried that student support for Obama is not as strong as it was four years ago, but CU student Stephanie Scau told the Denver Post many students don't see any other candidates as an option.

Scau is one of many students who stood in line to get tickets to see Obama on Tuesday.

"He's taking positions that really advocate for our generation, and I don't think it's because they're politically popular [to] a certain group or another," Tyler Quick, president of CU-Boulder College Democrats said. "He's taking them because he knows we need to carry the weight of this country on our shoulders in the future so he needs to make sure that we are properly investing in young people and what we want."

"I'd like him to consider the fact that he has never made college loans an issue - not even when he was in the Senate in 2007," Aslinn Scott, vice president of CU-Boulder College Republicans. "And all of a sudden, he seems to be playing politics with us, and it's not appreciated. It's not appreciated to college students who are one of his largest voting blocks, and suddenly he made this the issue."

Before his speech on the CU campus, Obama went after students in a likely place to find them - a restaurant and bar. He stopped at The Sink, shaking hands with young people enjoying beers and burgers. One woman said she wanted to start a restaurant based on cheese fries. "Sounds good," he said. Another woman accidentally spilled yogurt on Obama and a Secret Service agent, much to her embarrassment.

Streets in Cherry Creek were blocked off on Tuesday night because the president was expected to stay at a hotel there.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)

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