Both sides privately think the dispute will be settled this month. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered a plan recently that raises money with some changes in pension policy, and Republicans didn’t instantly dismiss the idea.
At the same time, the two sides keep finger-pointing, knowing that the stakes are huge for whoever emerges as the champion of college students, because the 18- to 29-year-old vote is considered crucial — and volatile. Obama holds a 56-34 percent lead so far over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, in that age group, according to Gallup polls conducted May 14 to June 3. That’s sharply down from Obama’s share of young adults in 2008.
It’s unclear how much Romney can continue cutting into that support, if at all. Young people tend to decide on their votes late in the election year, said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, the lead researcher for CIRCLE, a Massachusetts-based group that studies youth voting. “It’s an awareness issue. Young people have other things on their mind, and are less likely to talk about politics with their peers than older people,” she said. “They also tend to think more about the short term than older people.”
FIU’s Galindo, who plans to vote for the first time this year, says the interest rate jump is a “big deal.’’ She hasn’t decided whether Obama or Romney will get her support, but she said the interest-rate issue and whether it is resolved will likely influence her choice.
Americans now owe more on student loans than on their credit cards, with total student loan debt expected to exceed $1 trillion this year. Students who graduate with excessive debt frequently must put off big purchases such as a car or home, an act of belt-tightening that can have negative reverberations throughout the U.S. economy.
Interest rates for car and home purchases are currently at historic lows, which raises another issue about the possible student loan rate increase: Is it fair for those funding a college education to be charged higher borrowing rates than those buying a Chevrolet?
“It’s a tax on students, that’s essentially what it is,” said Braulio Colón, executive director of the Florida College Access Network advocacy group. “It’s a slap in the face of students and families who are trying to get the training and skills they need to become productive citizens.”
David Lightman and William Douglas from McClatchy News Service contributed to this report.