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Obama: GOP needs to prevent doubling of student loan rates

President Obama is urging Congress to extend low interest rates on federal student loans.

"In America, higher education cannot be a luxury; it’s an economic imperative that every family must be able to afford," Obama said in his weekly address. "That’s why next week I’ll be visiting colleges across the country, talking to students about how we can make higher education more affordable – and what’s at stake right now if Congress doesn’t do something about it."

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The White House began pushing the student loans issue on Friday when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appeared at the daily press briefing, and the president will visit colleges in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa next week.

"If Congress doesn’t act, on July 1 interest rates on some student loans will double," Obama said. "Nearly seven and half million students will end up owing more on their loan payments."

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, introduced in the Democrat-controlled Congress in 2007 and passed on bipartisan votes, halved the rate on federally subsidized Stafford loans to 3.4 percent. If Congress doesn't act, the rate returns to 6.8 percent.

Republicans contend keeping the low interest rate costs too much.

"Bad policy based on lofty campaign promises has put us in an untenable situation," Rep. John Kline (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in a Friday statement. "We must now choose between allowing interest rates to rise or piling billions of dollars on the backs of taxpayers."

In his address, Obama tried to paint the GOP's objections to extending the loan rates as part of a pattern. 

"Over the past few years, Republicans in Congress have voted against new ways to make college more affordable for middle-class families, and voted for huge new tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires – tax cuts that would have to be paid for by cutting things like education and job-training programs that give students new opportunities to work and succeed," he said.

"We cannot just cut our way to prosperity. Making it harder for our young people to afford higher education and earn their degrees is nothing more than cutting our own future off at the knees."