WASHINGTON, (UPI) — John Boehner accused Barack Obama of cheapening the U.S. presidency over student-loan rates as the House was to vote Friday on keeping the rates from doubling.
“This week the president traveled across the country on taxpayers’ dime at a cost of $179,000 an hour insisting the Congress fix a problem that we were already working on. Frankly, I think this is beneath the dignity of the White House,” the House speaker said at a press briefing.
“For the president to make a campaign issue out of this and then to travel to three battleground states and go to three large college campuses on taxpayers’ money to try to make this a political issue is pathetic,” said Boehner, R-Ohio.
“This is the biggest job in the world, and I’ve never seen the president make it smaller,” Boehner said.
He called on the Obama re-election campaign to reimburse the Treasury “for the cost of this trip.”
Obama spoke to student audiences at the University of Iowa Wednesday and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Colorado at Boulder Tuesday.
At the stops, the president assailed congressional Republicans for actions he said held up legislation to prevent the interest rate on subsidized Stafford student loans from doubling to 6.8 percent July 1.
The loans are taken out by nearly 8 million students each year.
The specially configured Boeing 747-200B Air Force One jet that Obama flew in typically costs $179,750 an hour to operate, the Defense Department says.
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the travel as a successful effort to champion an important policy issue
“It is eminently obvious that the president was out talking about a policy issue,” Carney told reporters Thursday. “This is official business. And he did it effectively.”
Carney said Boehner “praised a trip by President [George W.] Bush to Ohio in 2004, to talk about education, as absolutely the right thing to do.”
“It is also, to me, ironic that the arguments about this are coming from people who know that we assiduously follow all the rules in terms of the delineations between campaign travel and official travel, just as our predecessor did,” Carney added.
A liberal Web site, politicsusa.com, said Thursday Bush spent more than $124 million in taxpayer dollars for 77 vacation trips aboard Air Force One to his Crawford, Texas, ranch while he was president.
The House was to vote Friday on a $5.9 billion Republican bill to keep interest rates on the subsidized Stafford loans at 3.4 percent.
The bill would pay for this by taking money from Obama’s healthcare-overhaul law, Boehner said.
Boehner said Wednesday the one-year extension of the low interest rate would be paid for out of a $17 billion prevention and public health fund in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s signature healthcare law.
Boehner called the healthcare money, which covers breast cancer screening and childhood immunizations, a “slush fund.”
“It may be a slush fund for him, but it’s survival for women,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday shortly before Boehner spoke. “That just goes to show you what a luxury he thinks it is to have good health for women.”
House Democrats introduced their own measure, which would cancel tax subsidies for big oil companies as a way to pay for freezing student loan rates at current levels.
The low interest rate resulted from the 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which reduced interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans for the following four academic years to 3.4 percent, with the proviso the rates would revert to 6.8 percent July 1.
When the 2007 law was passed, 77 Republicans — including many still in Congress — voted for it, The New York Times said.