Obama says GOP 'playing chicken' on student loan rates

President Obama ratcheted up pressure on Congress on Thursday, accusing Republicans of “playing chicken” with a student loan extension deadline approaching next week.

During his brief speech in the East Room, Obama sought to telegraph a message that he has been actively pursuing the student loan issue. But he accused Congress of causing a stalemate on the issue and on the looming transportation bill.

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“It's mind-boggling that we've had this stalemate in Washington,” Obama said, standing beside Secretary of Education Arne Duncan before a crowd of college students. “I've been talking about this for what? A month, two months, three months, five months? I've lost track.

“Congress has had the time to fix it for months,” he continued. “It's part of the reason why everybody here looks impatient. This issue didn't come out of nowhere. It's been looming for months.”

The president added that if Congress does not pass the bill, the average student with federal loans will “rack up” an additional $1,000 in debt.

“That's not something you can afford right now,” he said.

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have said they have tried to reach out to the White House on the issue. But they say the White House has not responded to their efforts.

“All we have heard from the administration in response to our multiple offers is total silence,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

The sides have been at odds over how to pay for the roughtly $6 billion cost of the extension, with House Republicans approving legislation that would take funds from a preventative care fund created by the healthcare law. 

Republicans have noted Obama has not said how he'd pay for the extension.

During the White House briefing on Thursday, spokesman Jay Carney maintained that the White House is “engaged” with Congress in an effort to pass the legislation. “We are certainly engaged with Congress,” he said. “I don't have a roster with whom. It obviously requires both parties to get this done.”

Carney disputed the Republican claims that the White House hasn't been in touch on the issue, saying that when the legislation is passed, it won't be because of “miraculous conception.”

But he also sought to emphasize whom he thought was to blame for the stalemate and the slow progress being made on the issue. “The only reason why we're talking about this is because the president made it an issue,” he said.

This story was updated at 3:40 p.m.