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President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event  President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event at Truckee Meadows Community College.
President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event at Truckee Meadows Community College.
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Published: Tuesday, 8/21/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

President's Ohio visit touts education first

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

BEXLEY, Ohio — President Obama on Tuesday charged that Republican opponent Mitt Romney would sacrifice America's future by slashing college aid for young people in order to pay for tax cuts geared toward the wealthy.

Standing under the sun on the campus of private, Lutheran-affiliated Capital University in suburban Columbus, the Democratic President tried to use words uttered by Mr. Romney months earlier during a visit to another Columbus area school, Otterbein University.

"Governor Romney said if you want to be successful, if you want to go to college or start a business, you can just -- and I'm quoting here -- 'borrow money if you have to from your parents'," Mr. Obama told about 3,000 people gathered at Capital.

"And when a high school student in Youngstown asked him what he would do to make college more affordable for families like his, Governor Romney didn't say anything about grants or loan programs that are critical to millions of students to get a college education …," Mr. Obama said. "He said the best thing you can do is shop around …

"That's it," he said. "That's his plan. That's his answer to young people who are trying to figure out how to go to college and make sure they don't have a mountain of debt. … Not everybody has parents who have the money to lend. That may be news to some folks, but it's the truth."

The Romney campaign shot back that the cost of a college education has increased on Mr. Obama's watch.

"Judging from his speech, it seems like President Obama hoped voters forgot that he's been in charge for the past four years, but the President took ownership of the higher education crisis, and his policies have only made the problems of college affordability and student debt worse," said Romney spokesman Ryan Mahoney.

"College debt is up, tuition costs are increasing, and to make matters worse, unemployment for recent grads has increased under President Obama," he said. "This isn't the hope and change voters signed up for in 2008, and the President's negative tone today shows he'd rather point fingers than run on his record."

President Obama blasted the budget plan proposed by Mr. Romney's new running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, that would cut college financial-aid programs.

"I don't accept the notion that we should deny any children the opportunity to get a higher education," Mr. Obams said. "If they've been working hard, and they've got the grades, and they've got the determination to make a better future for themselves, I don't want them to be prevented just because their families were hit hard by the recession. … That's not what America is about."

The typical Capital University undergraduate student pays annual tuition of $31,364. In the fall of 2011, the average financial package, not counting private loans, totaled $26,130 for each full-time freshman.

Although both sides have been pointing accusing fingers at each other for weeks for supposedly undercutting Medicare, this time Mr. Obama made only a passing reference to the medical program for senior citizens. This time the way the Ryan budget would treat higher education was squarely in his crosshairs.

Democrats have dubbed it the "Romney-Ryan" budget, wrapping it around the neck of the top of the ticket despite the fact that Mr. Romney has distanced himself from some aspects of it.

Mr. Ryan's budget bill passed the Republican-controlled House, but went nowhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The Obama campaign argued that the plan would slash financial aid for nearly 10 million college students a year and would eliminate a tax credit for college tuition he created that has been used by 363,000 Ohio students.

"Governor Romney's proposing these cuts to pay for a new $5 trillion tax cut that's weighted toward the wealthiest Americans," he said.

The plan would also return to a system where federal student loans would be distributed by banks, undoing Obama reforms that got rid of the middleman and put the savings into larger grants for students. The campaign claims that, in addition to the tax credit, 349,000 Ohio college students are receiving Pell financial aid grants.

Mr. Obama was clearly aiming at the Ohio youth vote, trying to dispel what polls have shown is less enthusiasm in that age bracket for him than was seen in 2008.

Most of the crowd, however, was much older than that. Among them was Deborah Underwood, 58, a former claims examiner for a Franklin County agency who was laid off because of budget cuts. Her unemployment benefits ran out in November. But instead of reciting the Romney chant for a change at the top, she stood in the rain in Bexley to back Mr. Obama.

"There are a lot of initiatives being held up in Washington to help people like me," she said. "I realize that. I am not on food stamps. I am not on welfare or anything. But I am fortunate that it's just me.

"What about the families, the people who have lost their homes?" she asked. "I don't have health care. I've always been an independent woman. I've always taken care of myself."

Mr. Obama went out of his way between Rickenbacker Airport and Capital University to stop to talk to a few students inside Sloopy's Diner in the Student Union of Ohio State University. He ordered a Class Reuben sandwich, potato chips, and slice of Buckeye chocolate and peanut butter pie.

From Ohio, he was headed to another swing state, Nevada.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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