As Obama heads to Nevada, fingerpointing continues in student loan debate

The recession has been especially tough on young people, and getting them to support the president again won't be easy. Terrell Brown reports on the struggle to win the youth vote.
President Obama, left, and House Speaker John Boehner, right.
CBS/AP/Getty Images

(CBS News) Continuing a week-long push to promote White House efforts at making college more affordable for young people, President Obama on Thursday heads to Las Vegas, where he'll tout his support for low student loan interest rates in a state particularly hard-hit by the recession.

The event marks the latest in a string of recent appearances aimed at amping up support among young voters and contrasting the president's education policies with Republican plans. But Republicans are launching their own offensive on the subject, accusing the president of playing politics with the issue and calling on him to get back to Washington to "work with us."

Republicans and Democrats have for weeks been attempting to push through a measure to extend low student loan interest rates, which will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent in July on new loans, barring congressional action. But the two parties have been unable to agree on how to pay for the legislation, and Mr. Obama has repeatedly blasted Republicans in Congress for blocking Democratic efforts to move the bill forward.

In Nevada, Mr. Obama will continue to urge congressional action, according to a White House aide. In recent days, he has also pledged to work to enact policies that will help students despite ongoing congressional gridlock.

The White House on Thursday released a memo detailing one of those efforts, a new initiative to streamline the process through which students are able to apply for lower interest rates. And at a roundtable meeting with educators earlier this week, Vice President Joe Biden also outlined a new set of standards that would require colleges to make education costs and financial aid packages more transparent and user-friendly for students. Biden encouraged colleges to adopt those measures, which would require congressional action to implement as mandatory.

Congressional Republicans, however, argue that the president is using the issue for political gains -- but not actually making meaningful attempts to reach a resolution.

In a Wednesday night letter to the president, House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor blasted the president for his cross-country trip, and urged him to cancel it and "instead work with us so that we can extend these [interest] rates before they expire and stay focused on additional measures to help create jobs."

House Republicans passed their own version of a bill to extend the low interest rates for students last month. But that bill, which Mr. Obama threatened to veto, would have offset the costs by gutting a major portion of Mr. Obama's health care overhaul, and the Democratic-led Senate filibustered it. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, blocked the Democrats' version of the bill.

Republican congressional leaders also sent a series of proposals to the White House last week on possible ways to pay for the $6 billion student loan rate extension, which included upping the contributions federal employees would pay toward retirement. Biden on Tuesday said the White House was open to GOP proposals, but that "we're not going to trade off student loans for other vital, vital programs."

"It has been a week now since the Republican leadership in the Senate and the House sent several good-faith bipartisan proposals to the White House in an effort to resolve the student loan issue. And what has the White House done? Nothing. The president has yet to respond," said House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in remarks Thursday on the Senate floor.

"One can only surmise that he's delaying a solution so that he can fit in a few more campaign rallies with college students while pretending someone other than himself is delaying action," McConnell added.