Obama hails student loan measure as victory over special interests
By Anne E. Kornblut
Beginning to pivot from health care back to other domestic priorities, President Obama heralded in his weekly address Saturday the passage of sweeping changes to the way higher education is financed, saying they would "help us educate all Americans to compete and win in the 21st century."
Obama will sign the education reforms into law on Tuesday, in a ceremony at Northern Virginia Community College's Alexandria campus, the White House said. The measure includes additional funding for Pell grants and is designed to make it easier for students to pay off education loans. It also includes fixes to the new health-care law that were crafted in a compromise between House and Senate Democrats.
After months of tumultuous debate over health care, Obama is now heading out into the country to build support for the new law, including a stop this Thursday in Maine. But he is also beginning to change the subject. After focusing on education in Virginia Tuesday, Obama travels Friday to North Carolina to talk about the economy.
Privately, Democratic strategists said the shift is a welcome one, putting Obama on the path to a broader discussion extending beyond health care as the midterm elections pick up steam. "He has got to be talking about jobs when he goes out into the states," one Democratic official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about the president's strategy.
In his weekly address, Obama described the past week in terms of dual pillars of achievement.
"Education. Health care. Two of the most important pillars of a strong America grew stronger this week," he said.
And he dwelt on the latter.
"Year after year, we've seen billions of taxpayer dollars handed out as subsidies to the bankers and middlemen who handle federal student loans, when that money should have gone to advancing the dreams of our students and working families. And yet attempts to fix this problem and reform this program were thwarted by special interests that fought tooth and nail to preserve their exclusive giveaway," Obama said.
"But this time, we said, would be different. We said we'd stand up to the special interests, and stand up for the interests of students and families. That's what happened this week. And I commend all the senators and representatives who did the right thing," he said.
The changes will include capping students' annual loan payments at 10 percent of their salaries and dramatically increasing the funding for Pell grants.
"These achievements don't represent the end of our challenges; nor do they signify the end of the work that faces our country," Obama said. "But what they do represent is real and major reform. What they show is that we're a nation still capable of doing big things. What they prove is what's possible when we can come together to overcome the politics of the moment; push back on the special interests; and look beyond the next election to do what's right for the next generation."
Republicans continued to attack the health care overhaul as a mistake. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, delivering the Republican response, called the health care struggle "one of the most divisive legislative debates in modern history" and argued that the Democrats' glee at their accomplishments are not shared by the public at large.
"Most people aren't interested in celebrating a bill that makes their lives more complicated, takes more out of their paychecks and puts decisions they're used to making themselves into the hands of federal bureaucrats," McConnell said.
Trumpeting the Republican mantra to "repeal and replace" the health care bill, he said his party would soon formulate an alternative -- "without all the nasty consequences we're already beginning to see."
Anne E. Kornblut
March 27, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Education
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