Student loans emerge as economic issue in campaign
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- In the state that began his White House march, President Barack Obama looked every bit the campaigner Wednesday as he told supporters that "Iowa always feels like home to me."
With a focus on student loans, he rallied young people during his third visit to a university campus in two days and said keeping college affordable "is at the heart of who we are."
Obama's election-season speech at the University of Iowa mirrored his addresses Tuesday in North Carolina and Colorado, and was part of the campaign appeal to young voters, an important constituency that the Democratic incumbent and Republican rival Mitt Romney are trying to win over.
The issue of student debt goes right to the heart of economic anxiety affecting many families and a new generation of voters as the campaign season takes hold.
Obama, who was born in Hawaii and hails from Illinois, made his comment about the at-home feeling of Iowa to hundreds of people crammed into an overflow room before his speech. It was a reminder of the political overtones of his stop in this competitive state, where his early 2008 caucus victory catapulted a campaign that led to a decisive victory over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the general election.
Obama told college crowds that Congress needed to act on a bill to freeze the interest rate on student loans. In Washington, lawmakers had agreed on that goal and were debating how to pay for it. A measure from Senate Democrats would prevent today's 3.4 percent interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans for low- and middle-income students from doubling automatically on July 1.
Obama said the Senate bill was "good news", but he questioned whether House Republicans would go along with a yearlong freeze that would help 7.4 million people. He also addressed criticism from House Speaker John Boehner's office that the White House was only raising the student loan debate to distract from the economy.
"This is the economy," Obama said. "This is about your job security, about your future. If you do well, the economy does well."