EMILY VERBURG, Staff Writer
A few days ago President Obama, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots performed a sultry slow jam on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” as part of a campaign year stump for young voters. The video went viral instantly, much like when Obama crooned a couple lines of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” This difference was, this time Obama sang his own lyrics. The President serenaded a collegiate North Carolina crowd about the impending expiration on subsidized student loans. And while everyone loves to see our charismatic POTUS flash his million dollar lawyer smile and croon into a microphone, I worry that his message was lost in the novelty of his performance. All of the expected reactions materialized as young adults swooned, Fox news criticized Obama’s audacity to appear on a comedy show (Bush appeared on “Deal or No Deal” in April 2008) and the Romney campaign pledged that he would never ever slow jam anything if elected – let alone the news.
Despite the mainstream and social media hype over the stunt, Obama’s shortened message and overwhelming charisma left scant room for most of the important facts about the issue. Many of my peers spent more time talking about how hip our “Preezy of the United Steezy” was than what he was singing about. More than seven million U.S. students have taken out subsidized Stafford Loans, which do not accrue any interest while the student is in school. Even after graduation these loans have lower interest rates than unsubsidized loans and private loans. When legislation expires in July, the interest rate on the loans is set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. This will raise costs by an average of $1000 for low- and middle-income undergraduates. President Obama introduced a bill to Congress that would prevent the interest rate on the loans from increasing for another year, giving students an opportunity to pay off more debt. The measure would cost the government around $6 billion; an amount that opponents claim would jeopardize the economic recovery. However, Obama’s bill would siphon money from oil subsidies to help pay for the measure.
Last Friday, Republicans in the House of Representatives ignored a veto threat from the president and passed a measure of their own. This bill would extend the current subsidized interest rate on Stafford loans as well, but would pay for it with funds from the recent healthcare overhaul. The money would be coming from the Prevention and Public Health provision of the Affordable Care Act, which is designated for use at the local, state, and federal level to provide services like breast cancer screenings. The depletion of this fund has been a non-starter for Democrats, and those in the Senate have promised to block the legislation before it makes it to Obama’s desk. Still, Republicans are claiming to have American’s best interests in mind.
Speaker John Boehner remarked: “My God, do we have to fight about everything? Give me a break, this is the latest plank in the so-called war on women — entirely created by my colleagues across the aisle for political gain.”
Our president took the time to sing us a song, and I think that the least we can do is take time to think about his lyrics. Most of us have some sort of Stafford loan, but I’m sure most everyone can think of a lot of post-grad things to do with $1000 that don’t include sending it to the federal government. Maybe you believe that your Stafford loans should be subsidized with taxes on billionaires, maybe you think the money should come from preventative health care for women and children. Either way, it’s important to engage and think critically about
the issue of student loans, even if the first time you heard about it was on late night television.