Republicans Note Then-Senator Obama Didn't Show Up for Vote on Student Loan Bill in 2007

(Image Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

President Obama today begins a two-day tour of college campuses in three battleground states - North Carolina, Colorado, and Iowa - in which he will press Congress to extend the 2007 law that keeps interest rates on student loans at a lower rate of 3.4 percent. If Congress doesn't extend this lower rate, rates will double on July 1 to 6.8 percent.

"Nearly seven and half million students will end up owing more on their loan payments," the president said in his weekly address. "That would be a tremendous blow. And it's completely preventable."

As the president prepared for his push - which Democrats hope will also shore up support for the president among younger voters, a group among which enthusiasm for Mr. Obama has been lagging - Republicans on Capitol Hill noted that then-Senator Obama seemed to make the lower interest rates for student loans a lower priority.

When the bill came up for final passage on September 7, 2007, then-Senator Obama did not vote; he was campaigning for president in California and Oregon.

"It seems not much has changed," said Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Five years ago, just like today, the President put campaigning before governing. As a result, 50 percent of new graduates can't find full-time employment in this economy."

White House officials noted that at the time Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told the Senate Democrats running for president - which included not just Obama but then-Senators Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Joe Biden, D-Del., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn. - that he would call them back from the campaigning if their votes were needed, and they were not for this bill, which passed 78-18. (Clinton, Biden and Dodd were also no-shows.)

"It's no secret that Barack Obama ran for President in 2007," said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. "And it's no secret that he has doubled funding for college scholarships and fought Republican attempts to increase the debt burden for students."

LaBolt noted that then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney also ran for president in 2007, saying the presumptive GOP presidential nominee "was outside of the state of Massachusetts for 212 days his final year in office."

For his part, Romney yesterday supported the president's push to extend the lower interest rate for student loans, issuing a statement saying that: "Given the bleak job prospects that young Americans coming out of college face today, I encourage Congress to temporarily extend the low rate."

-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller