Romney: "I fully support" extension of low student loan interest rates

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, talks to reporters as he is joined by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., during a news conference prior to a town hall-style meeting in Aston, Pa., Monday, April 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Jae C. Hong

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, talks to reporters as he is joined by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., during a news conference prior to a town hall-style meeting in Aston, Pa., Monday, April 23, 2012.
Jae C. Hong

Updated: 3:28 p.m. ET

In an apparent pitch to woo young voters, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney went out of his way Monday to tout his support for efforts to extend low interest rates on student loans, telling reporters at a press availability that "I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans."

Romney, who had just ended a press availability alongside possible VP pick Marco Rubio, returned to the microphone to make sure he had expressed his support for the extension of low interest rates for students, which are currently set to expire in July.

"There's one thing I want to mention that I forgot to mention at the very beginning and that was that particularly with the mention of the number of college graduates that can't find work or that can only find work well beneath their skill level, I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans," Romney said.

He added that there was "some concern" that the low interest rates would expire halfway through the year, and emphasized that "I support extending the temporary relief on interest rates for students as a result of - as a result of student loans, obviously - in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market."

Some of the "concern" Romney reflected upon is coming from President Obama. The president, who is visiting colleges in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa this week, has repeatedly emphasized his administration's efforts to ease the burden of debt on young people seeking higher education, and is making a strong push urging Congress to extend the low interest rates, will surge from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent barring an extension.

"In America, higher education cannot be a luxury," Obama said Saturday during his weekly radio and Internet address. "It's an economic imperative that every family must be able to afford."

The president cast the issue as a matter of "values" and suggested that Republicans were getting in the way of helping middle-class families send their kids to college.

"We cannot let America become a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of people struggle to get by," he said.

Some Republicans have opposed the extension on the grounds that it would come at a high cost to taxpayers.

On this issue, however, Romney seems to see eye-to-eye with the president.

In a statement following up his Monday remarks, Romney pointed to what he cast as Mr. Obama's "failed leadership on the economy" as part of the reason young people are struggling to pay off their student debts. According to an analysis the Associated Press published Monday, 53.6 percent of people under the age of 25 last year holding bachelor's degrees were jobless or underemployed -- the highest share in at least 11 years.

"President Obama's failed leadership on the economy has led to the weakest recovery since the Great Depression, where 50 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed," Romney said in a statement. "Given the bleak job prospects that young Americans coming out of college face today, I encourage Congress to temporarily extend the current low rate on subsidized undergraduate Stafford loans."

He added: "I also hope the President and Congress can pass the extension responsibly, that offsets its cost in a way that doesn't harm the job prospects of young Americans. Ultimately, what young Americans want and need is a new president who will champion lasting and permanent policy changes that both address the rising cost of a college education and get our economy really growing again."

In a statement Monday, Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith hit back at Romney as a candidate who "continues to make promises that he can't keep."

"While he previously endorsed the Ryan budget, which would make deep cuts to Pell Grants and allow student loan rates to double, and last week said that he would gut the Department of Education to pay for his tax plan, today we heard yet another--and contradictory--position from Romney on student loans," Smith said. "As the list of promises Mitt Romney has made to the American people gets longer--from giving $5 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans to claiming that he would balance the budget--the numbers just don't add up."

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