The Great Pivot is under way.
After sternly telling a high school senior during the primary that he shouldn’t expect government help with student debt, Mitt Romney informed reporters on Monday that he sides with President Obama on a key aspect of the issue.
“I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans … in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market,” Romney said.
The position would seem to put Romney at odds with congressional Republicans — perhaps the first clear sign of Romney’s long-expected effort to separate himself from the unpopular House GOP.
Obama has launched an all-out push to get Congress to extend a provision of a 2007 law that is set to expire. The sunset of the provision would double the interest rate for nearly 8 million students each year.
Congressional Republicans are expected to oppose an extension along party lines, arguing that it represents a fiscally irresponsible effort to buy the youth vote.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, denied that Romney’s position is necessarily at odds with that of House Republicans, telling me that the caucus is committed to finding a way to extend low interest rates. But when asked if congressional Republicans supported Obama’s push to extend the law immediately, Steel wouldn’t say.
Romney’s stance does seem at odds with that of Republicans such as Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the chair of the House education committee, who said recently: “We must now choose between allowing interest rates to rise or piling billions of dollars on the backs of taxpayers.”
During the primary, Romney took a harder line against government help with student loans. In March, a high school senior from Ohio asked Romney at a town hall meeting what he would do to help students pay for college. Romney replied: “It would be popular for me to stand up and say, ‘I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college,’ but I’m not going to promise that. … Don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”
But the student loan fight is one that seems tailor-made for Obama to use against Romney. The GOP candidate claims that Obama’s calls for government activism to combat inequality amount to class warfare and that we should seek to promote opportunity and social mobility instead. This issue gives Obama and Democrats a good way to call the GOP’s “opportunity” bluff by asking why Republicans refuse to support government action that could actually facilitate the expansion of opportunity and mobility they say they want.
At a time when Romney is making an aggressive bid for the youth vote, arguing that Obama is responsible for the unemployment travails of recent college grads, it appears he has decided he can’t afford to oppose extending the low interest rates Obama is pushing for right now.