With federal student loan interest rates set to double at the end of the month, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) will spend this week pushing her opponents to take a stand on whether they would extend the current rates for another year.
According to Baldwin's campaign, more than 167,000 Wisconsin college students and graduates would be affected, and the average increase in student debt would be $968 without congressional action. Baldwin will begin her tour with an event with students in Madison on Tuesday, tour the state and wrap up in Milwaukee on Friday.
"Wisconsin's Republican candidates for U.S. Senate have remained silent on this issue — it is time for them to let us know where they stand," Baldwin plans to say, according to her campaign. "Are they going to stand with congressional Republicans in Washington who continue to block action on solving this problem, or with Wisconsin's students who are in desperate need of student loan debt relief?"
With Wisconsin's high-profile gubernatorial recall race out of the way, Baldwin and her opponents are ramping up their campaign schedules in a big way. Former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-Wis.) stumped on Monday with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who has endorsed him, while both former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) and businessman Eric Hovde (R) went up with television ads in recent days.
Democrats and Republicans in Washington both want to extend the low interest rates, but disagree over how the legislation should be paid for. Senate Democrats would eliminate a tax break to pay for the roughly $6 billion cost, while Republicans in the House have approved a bill that would offset the cost by raiding a preventative care fund set up by the healthcare law. More recently, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have exchanged counter-offers that appeared to bring the sides closer to a deal.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee pointed out that Baldwin had voted against the Republican proposal.
"Rather than embarking on some phony political tour and misleading Wisconsin voters, Tammy Baldwin should be working in a bipartisan manner to help find a solution for college students," said NRSC Spokesman Lance Trover. "The people of Wisconsin are fed up with Tammy Baldwin’s far-left brand of politics that places a government takeover of healthcare above the needs of hardworking students."
Baldwin is not the first Democrat to use the battle on the campaign trail: President Obama went to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas last week to hammer Republicans on the issue.
Baldwin has sought to frame herself as a consumer advocate, as her four possible Republican opponents have hewed closely to GOP orthodoxy during their primary. She will likely need high student turnout to win her race, which The Hill rates as a toss-up.
This post was updated at 11:40 a.m.