WASHINGTON -- On Friday morning the New York Times reported that President Barack Obama will launch an "all-out push" to persuade lawmakers to keep interest rates on federal student loans at current, low levels. The rates are set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1. And with nearly 8 million students relying on loans each year, the financial burden would be daunting.
The politics aren't bad, either. The administration's push to pressure Congress included Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appearing at the White House daily briefing on Friday.
"The facts are very, very simple," said Duncan. "This [lowered rate] passed in 2007 with broad bipartisan support. It was signed by a Republican president. We all understand that if we want to keep jobs in this country -- we're not competing in our little districts and in our states -- we're competing against India and China and Singapore and South Korea. And if we want to keep those good jobs here, we have to have an educated workforce."
The expectation, so far, is that Republicans will balk. As Duncan spoke, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, released a statement saying that the White House hadn't said where it would get $6 billion to keep federal interest rates at their current level.
But not everyone in the GOP tent is excited about dragging their heals. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, appearing on Fox News Friday afternoon, had this to say about the possibility the interest rate doubling on student loans:
It should not happen, because it would be the essence of a tax increase. When the economy is in the kind of shape that it is in right now and particularly when it is very difficult for a lot of people to get to college and more importantly to get a job when they get out, the worst thing you can do is to say while you are down, here is number 13 shoe, let me put in your back side. That is just not going happen.
Huckabee went on to suggest that in exchange for giving in on the loan issue, Republicans should demand that the president extend the Bush tax cuts -- a remarkably unbalanced and unlikely trade. But even then, his advice to fellow GOPers -- "Get out in front of the issue. Congratulate the president for bringing it up." -- is noteworthy. The former governor remains one of the most prominent, self-avowed compassionate conservatives in the Republican tent. And by coming out in favor of extending the interest rate cut, he sets a philosophical marker of sorts for Mitt Romney.
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