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Obama in Denver promises action, with or without Congress

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/07/MahurinPolitics_Thumb1.jpgDENVER– As anticipated, President Barack Obama detailed his plan Wednesday to use an executive order to ease the burden of student loan debt for millions of Americans during a Wednesday address at the Auraria Higher Education Center.

Speaking in shirtsleeves and drawing on his own struggles with student debt as a young man, husband and father, Obama told the energized crowd that he was determined to act wherever possible to relieve economic distress without going through the gridlocked Congress.

“The reason I’ve been hitting the road so much, is because the people I’ve been talking to in cities and small towns, in communities all across America, let’s face it, they make a lot more sense than the people back in Washington,” Obama said.

Revving up to full campaign form, Obama said people around the country are hurting and spending months and years looking for work. He also reiterated the point, underscored by the Occupy Wall Street protesters lined up outside the building and at the back of the hall, that the deck has been stacked in favor of the wealthy and powerful for decades and to the detriment of the country.

“For decades too many of our institutions, from Washington to Wall Street, failed to adapt [to the globalized world] or they adapted in ways that didn’t work for ordinary folks. … We had a philosophy that said if we cut taxes for the very wealthiest and we gut environmental regulations and we don’t enforce labor regulations, that somehow, you know, if we just let Wall Street write the rules, then somehow that was going to lead to prosperity. Instead, it led to the financial crisis and the deepest recession since the Great Depression.”

The status quo has to change, he said, and added that Republican lawmakers “don’t share our sense of urgency.”

“We’re not going to wait for Congress. I’m going to act with or without Congress. Where they won’t act, I will, through a series of executive orders. … We’re going to look every day to see what we can do without Congress.”

Taking action now on educational debt

Obama’s plan is aimed at speeding up student loan repayment reforms passed last year but not scheduled to take effect until 2014. His executive order will lower the maximum percentage of income students will have to pay toward their student loans to 10 percent, and it will lower the number of years that must pass before such a debt can be forgiven from 20 from 25. Education seekers will also be able to consolidate loans in new ways that should provide lower interest rates.

The proposal drew roars from the “generation debt” crowd that packed the hall.

Auraria is an urban campus that hosts students at several different colleges and universities and that attracts a large number of returning students — people who work their way through school and depend heavily on federal assistance to pay expenses.

Obama made the point that the reforms will affect not just hundreds of thousands of current students but also the millions of former students who still still pay their student loan holders. The reforms could save individuals hundreds of dollars in loan payments each month.

U.S. Student loan debt has recently overtaken credit card debt. There is roughly $1 trillion in outstanding loans and this year’s crop of university graduates holds the highest average debt to date. Parents who aren’t themselves paying student loans are saving to pay the loans their children will may soon carry.

“The very fact that you are here investing in your education, making an investment in your futures tells me you all share my faith in America’s future. You inspire me,” Obama said.

“We live in a global economy where businesses can set up shop anywhere there’s an internet connection. We live in a time where over the next decade 60 percent of new jobs will require more than a high school diploma.

“Other countries are hustling to out-educate us so they can out-compete us tomorrow. They want the jobs of the future. I want you to have those jobs. I want Americans to have those jobs. I want us to win the future. That means we should be doing everything we can to put a college education within reach for every American.

“It’s never been more important, but let’s face it, it’s also never been more expensive.”

The middle-class connection

The president spoke informally about the debt he and his wife Michelle wracked up as students. He said together they owed in excess of $100,000 in student loans when they married.

“We combined liabilities, not assets,” he joked, building on a personal story that obviously resonated with the audience.

Although the October snow and sleet piled up on roadways throughout and around Denver, the standing-room-only crowd comprised of mostly students and faculty was fully energized — dancing in groups and shouting positive responses back to the opening band and to the President during his remarks.

Although it remains unclear if Obama will be able to motivate young voters in his 2012 reelection campaign as effectively as he did in 2008, the size, energy and scope of the Colorado audience is a strong indicator that he continues to build excitement within the demographic.

“It is great to be back in Colorado. It’s great to be here at CU Denver,” Obama said when he first stepped to the microphone. “I tend to have some pretty good memories of Denver. We had a little gathering here a few years ago at Mile High,” he said, jokingly referring to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, where he was chosen to be the party’s presidential nominee.

“So coming here gets me fired up even when it’s snowing outside,” he said. “I don’t know where else you can go sledding on Halloween.”

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