CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Kicking off a two-day, swing-state tour focused on keeping student-loan rates from increasing, President Obama told an arena full of college students that he can relate to their struggles paying off loans because he has had his own tuition woes.
“I just want everybody to understand: I didn’t just read about this,” Obama said as the audience at the University of North Carolina crescendo from gradual applause to a full cheer. “I didn’t just get some talking points about this."
He continued, referring to himself and wife Michelle, “We didn’t come from wealthy families. We paid more in student loans than we paid on the mortgage when we finally did buy a condo.”
He noted the length it took for him to pay off his student loans, even though he now holds the nation’s highest office.
“We finished paying our student loans. And check this out -- I’m the President of the Untied States -- we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago.”
Obama criticized Republicans, who he said pay “lip service” to the concepts of student aid, a day after presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney said he “fully support[s] the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans.”
“You’ll hear people say, yeah, education, it’s important,” he said. “That requires not just words but deeds.”
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams, who attended the event at UNC, responded to those remarks saying, “Governor Romney has made his position on this issue clear. He feels that we need to help college students during these tough economic times when they’re unable to find a job under this president.”
The House Republican budget, trumpeted by Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, would not increase funding for Pell Grants, and keep funding for them at current levels for the 10 years of the budget, Politifact notes. Romney has embraced the Ryan budget, saying the two are "on the same page."
The president was speaking to students and recent graduates here ostensibly to gin up awareness that student loans will double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, unless Congress votes to extend the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, signed into law in September 2007.
As his administration has done frequently when it wants to generate buzz over a certain policy initiative, the president urged his audience to get involved through -- in addition to phone calls and email -- social media and in particular, Twitter.
“Call your member of Congress,” Obama urged. “Email them, write on their Facebook page, Tweet them… we have a hashtag.”
He introduced the hashtag as #dontdoublemyrate, and seemed to feed off the enthusiasm of the rally-like atmosphere by telling the audience to repeat the phrase after him.
“Everybody say it so you can remember it!” he urged.