With the general election heating up, Obama is on the campaign trail this week. Perhaps he heard the news that his popularity is dwindling among the young, as his tour is making stops at large colleges in swing states. And on this college tour, the president delivered a message calculated to resonate with young voters: He mentioned a bill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has introduced that would extend for another year an interest rate cut for subsidized student loans, which are otherwise scheduled to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent in July.
Romney appears to be following suit, matching Obama’s calls for Congress to freeze interest rate increases for student loans. And Senate Republicans agree: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voiced support for the extension, although he took issue with Democratic plans to pay for the bill through higher taxes on businesses. For all the talk of unprecedented political polarization, we may finally have found an issue on which both sides agree.
Unfortunately, both sides get incompletes. Today’s students need more than cheap student loans. Lower tuition and better job prospects are the two things today’s students need most. A big fat federal program to lower interest on student loans will have the opposite effect: removing incentives for colleges to lower tuition while encouraging students to go into more debt to finance degree programs that are increasingly divorced from practical application in the job market.
This is perhaps the greatest irony. In their attempts to court the youth vote ahead of the election, both parties are letting down the young, sacrificing the needs of future generations for short-term political gain. But since that’s a pretty good description of the approach our political establishment brings to almost every question that comes up — why be surprised?