President Obama portrayed Mitt Romney on Tuesday as an out-of-touch elitist while pitching education reform in front of college students at a campaign event at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio.
“When a high school student in Youngstown asked him what he would do to make college more affordable for families like his, Governor Romney didn’t say anything about grants or loan programs that are critical to millions of students to get a college education; nothing about work-study programs, or rising college tuition; he didn't say a word about community colleges, or how important higher education is to America’s economic future,” Obama said. “He said the best thing you can do is shop around.”
“That’s it — that’s his plan. That’s his answer to young people who are trying to figure out to go to college and make sure they don't have a mountain of debt — shop around and borrow money from your parents."
Taking a dig at Romney's wealthy upbringing, Obama added: “Not everybody has parents who have the money to lend."
The message dovetails with the Obama campaign’s argument that some success is driven by government investments in education, training and infrastructure. Obama has blasted the GOP on education for months, saying “nearly every Republican” voted to cut funding to Head Start, cut Pell grants for college and block a portion of his jobs bill that the administration says would put 400,000 teachers and first-responders back to work.
“I am only standing before you today because of the chance my education gave me,” Obama said. “So I can tell you with some experience that making higher education more affordable for our young people is something I’ve got a personal stake in ... I say this because putting a college education within reach for working families just doesn’t seem to be a big priority for my opponent.”
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, White House deputy communications director Jennifer Psaki said Romney’s plan to “slash funding” for education would prevent 1 million students from getting scholarships and cut financial aid for 10 million students.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg, responding to the campaign attack, said Obama has done little in office to help college students struggling to find jobs and pay down debt.
“Just yesterday, President Obama told struggling college graduates to look at his ‘track record,’ but under this president, too many young Americans are suffering from higher college costs, more debt, and a lack of good jobs when they graduate,” she said in a statement.
“Today’s policies are just more of the same from a president who hasn’t fixed the economy or kept his promises to the young people who supported him four years ago. The Romney-Ryan plan will deliver 12 million new jobs to help recent graduates — and all Americans — enjoy a more prosperous future.”
When asked what he would do on student loans during a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire on Monday, Romney drew a contrast with the president's policies.
“I'm not going to promise all sorts of free stuff that I know you're going to end up paying for,” Romney said. “What I want to do is give you a great job so you'll be able to pay it back yourself. And I want to get the government off your back so you can keep more of what you earned.”
With the coming start of the school year as his backdrop, Obama reignited the issue of education reform on Saturday in his weekly address. He called on lawmakers to pass legislation to help cash-strapped state and local governments hire teachers and said Republican budget cuts would set back America’s education system.
“This year, several thousand fewer educators will be going back to school,” the president said. “Think about what that means for our country. At a time when the rest of the world is racing to out-educate America, these cuts force our kids into crowded classrooms, cancel programs for preschoolers and kindergarteners, and shorten the school week and the school year.”
On Tuesday, the Obama campaign unveiled a new website highlighting the president's student loan program, looking to target the youth vote that buoyed his efforts in 2008.
The website touts his “Pay As You Earn” program, which caps federal student loan payments at 10 percent of discretionary income. Users can plug their income and student loan debt into the calculator to determine their monthly payments.
The program was announced last October as part of the president's “We Can't Wait” initiatives, a set of executive orders and regulations intended to stimulate the economy — and create distance from an increasingly unpopular Congress.
Obama has called on Congress to authorize federal funding to help states retain public workers, including teachers, firefighters and police officers — a key element of his jobs agenda — but the measures have found resistance from House Republicans.
In October, Senate Republicans voted in unison to block Obama’s American Jobs Act. Senate Republicans also voted to filibuster a scaled-back piece of the bill aimed at putting teachers and first-responders back to work.