April 24th, 2012
03:55 PM ET
Boulder, CO (CNN) – President Obama kicked off a tour of three battleground states today with a speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This two-day college blitz is, on it's face, about pressing Congress to prevent interest rates on federally subsidized student loans from doubling this summer. In political reality, the president's latest excursion from Washington is all about energizing part of his base – youth voters – in an election year.
"For each year that Congress doesn't act, the average student with these loans will rack up an additional $1,000 in debt - an extra $1,000," President Obama told a supportive crowd of mainly students at UNC Chapel Hill. "That's basically a tax hike for more than 7 million students across America, more than 160,000 students here in North Carolina alone."
In 2007, with bipartisan support, a Democratic-led Congress cut interest rates on Stafford loans from 6.8% to 3.4%, the current rate. On July 1, that rate is set to return to 6.8% for new loans. As some congressional Republicans voice concern about the $6 billion price tag for maintaining the low rates, the White House is coordinating with congressional Democrats to frame Republicans as threatening to raise costs on college students.
On Monday, presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney gave a full-throated endorsement of extending the low interest rates, trying to blunt the president's momentum on the issue. Congressional Republicans accuse President Obama of trying to distract from his performance on the economy and point out that under the president's own budget proposal student loan rates would double in 2013.
In 2008, 66 percent of voters age 18 to 29 voted for Obama. Thirty-two percent went for Sen. John McCain. The latest CNN/ORC poll shows a similar breakdown among young people in an Obama-Romney match-up, but a number of polls show an enthusiasm gap for Obama among young voters compared to 2008 when they flocked to cast ballots in unprecedented numbers.
President Obama is scheduled to speak at the University of Colorado Boulder Tuesday night. On Wednesday he addresses students at the University of Iowa.
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