President Obama highlighted the “good news” in the latest jobs report today, but, speaking in the battleground state of Virginia, stressed “we’ve got to do more” to boost the economy, including freezing low interest rates for student loans.
Speaking to students at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, the president touted that the unemployment rate “ticked down again” from 8.2 percent in March to 8.1 percent in April, while glossing over the fact that the economy created just 115,000 jobs last month, fewer than the roughly 160,000 expected.
“After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our businesses have now created more than 4.2 million new jobs over the last 26 months, more than 1 million jobs in the last six months alone,” Obama said to applause. “So that’s the good news. But there are still a lot of folks out of work, which means that we’ve got to do more.”
One way to boost the economy, the president argued, is for Congress to maintain low interest rates for student loans. The president has spent the past two weeks pushing lawmakers to extend a 2007 law that cut student loan rates to 3.4 percent. If Congress does not act, interest rates will double to 6.8 percent on July 1.
“My message to Congress is going to be, just saying no to ideas that will create new jobs is not an option. There’s too much at stake for us not to all be rowing in the same direction,” Obama said.
The president went on to slam Republican lawmakers for playing politics with the student loan bill. “Rather than find a bipartisan way to fix this problem, the House Republicans are saying they’re only going to prevent these rates from doubling if they can cut things like preventive health care for women instead,” he said to boos from the crowd. “That’s not good. We shouldn’t have to choose between women having preventive health care and young people keeping their student loan rates low.”
The president has threatened to veto the House version of the bill because it would cut the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a program created as part of the president’s health care reform act.
In response to Obama’s speech, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tweeted, “Is it normal for Presidents to deliver such hyper-partisan remarks to a group of high schoolers?”
Today’s address marked the fourth time in two weeks the president has rallied students to support his call for low-rate student loans. The administration’s focus on the issue has caused some Republicans to accuse the president of trying to distract attention away from the flailing economic recovery.
“This makes no sense because this is all about the economy,” the president said today in his defense. “Making sure our young people can earn the best possible education? That’s one of the best things we can do for the economy. Making sure college is available to everyone and not just a few at the top — that’s one of the best things we can do for our economy.”
Obama will return to Virginia on Saturday, where he will hold one of his first campaign rallies of the election year. The president has an edge over presumptive GOP rival Mitt Romney in the state and is expected to campaign hard to maintain it. According to a new Washington Post poll, the president leads Romney 51 percent to 44 percent in Virginia.