WASHINGTON – President Obama used the college commencement season Saturday to get behind Senate Democratic legislation that would let college graduates with heavy debts refinance their loans.
The Senate is expected to debate the legislation next week, but it faces significant obstacles.
In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama noted the program would be paid for by doing away with tax loopholes for millionaires. He says the choice facing lawmakers is whether to "protect young people from crushing debt or protect tax breaks for millionaires."
According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the average debt for the class of 2012 was $29,400. Obama also notes that the unemployment rate for college graduates is about half what it is for high school graduates and that a typical college graduate makes $15,000 more a year than a worker with just a high school degree.
"At a time when college has never been more important, it's also never been more expensive," he says.
The White House is drawing attention to college affordability and student loans Monday with an event featuring Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in a statement criticized the bill for not addressing college costs.
"This bill doesn't make college more affordable, reduce the amount of money students will have to borrow, or do anything about the lack of jobs grads face in the Obama economy," he said.
In the Republican weekly address, Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, the chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, called attention to recent findings of widespread problems with delayed or mishandled appointments at VA hospitals. He says Obama needs to describe fixes that improve VA service for the long-term.
"This is the biggest health care scandal in the VA's history, and America deserves to know whether the president is committed to doing whatever it takes to make things right," Miller said.