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Student loans not hot topic during Obama’s OSU visit

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

President Barack Obama did not address student loan interest rates in his speech at Ohio State, an issue he discussed at three other universities just days before Saturday’s speech.

Obama kicked off his re-election campaign Saturday with the “Ready to Go” Rally at the Schottenstein Center where he addressed a crowd of about 14,000 people.

While Obama addressed education in his speech, he did not talk about student loan interest rates, though they came up during his two-day tour to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Iowa April 24 and 25.

The interest rates on new Stafford subsidized loans is set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1 unless Congress passes legislation to prevent the increase.

Democrats and Republicans agree that interest rates should not increase. They do not agree, however, on how to fund the extension of the current rate.

Senate Democrats sponsored a bill that will extend the current rate for one year and fund the extension by amending the tax code by raising payroll taxes on some corporations. The Senate has not yet voted on the legislation.

The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed Republican-sponsored legislation to freeze the current interest rate for one year. The legislation pays for the extension with money from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which finances efforts like tobacco prevention, obesity and heart disease.

If the House legislation makes it to the president’s desk, the Obama administration said it would veto it.

Obama’s focus instead was on the importance of furthering education.

“I’m running to make sure that by the end of the decade, more of our citizens hold a college degree than any other nation on Earth. I want to help our schools hire and reward the best teachers, especially in math and science,” Obama said. “I want to give 2 million more Americans the chance go to community colleges and learn the skills that local businesses are looking for right now.

“In the 21st century, higher education can’t be a luxury. It is an economic imperative that every American should be able to afford. That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for president.”

First lady Michelle Obama mentioned student loans in her speech, although she did not talk about the potential increase in rates.

“Student loans for our young people, that is what my husband has been fighting for every single day as president,” Michelle Obama said.

Noah Taylor, a first-year in mathematics, said there was a reason for Obama not discussing student loan interest rates.

“This is the start of his election campaign, so he wasn’t actually talking specifically to Ohio State students,” Taylor said.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney, likely the Republican nominee for president, did, however, address the issue of student loans to a group of students at Otterbein University on April 27. Romney said it was time for the government “to get serious about not passing on massive debts to you,” talking to the mostly-student audience.

“My generation will never pay it back. We’ll be dead and gone,” Romney said. “That interest and that principal gets paid by you guys. And for year after year after year, your income taxes are going to include a very substantial amount to pay the interest on the debt we’re accumulating now.”

Even though Obama’s speech was an election speech, Laura MacInnis, who graduated from OSU in December with an English degree, said she was disappointed Obama did not address student loan interest rates.

“In all honesty, I’m a fan of the president and I think he’s done a lot of positive things, but I feel like his speech today could have been a little more specific on issues,” MacInnis said. “I feel like there’s a lot of rhetoric, and I kind of wish that he would have addressed some of the issues that we’re facing today as college kids.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown did address student loan interest rates as well as both the House and Senate legislation, of which he is a co-sponsor, in his speech.

For Dan McKay, a fifth-year in political science, Brown’s speech and Obama’s previous remarks about student loan interest rates were enough.

“(Loan rates) came up in Sherrod’s speech just before (Obama’s). I know the president just told people the other day to call your congressman … I think he’s said it enough, but that’s one issue out of many big challenges that we face,” McKay said. “He’s going to get us focused on all the right areas. I know he supports us in it, so I’m pretty happy with the speech today.”

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