DENVER – President Barack Obama returned to Colorado for the second time in a month Wednesday to unveil a student loan relief program.
It was Obama’s second visit to a Denver school since late September, and another sign that his campaign expects Colorado to be a battleground in the 2012 election.
On Wednesday, about 4,000 people packed into the fieldhouse at downtown Denver’s Auraria campus, home to three colleges, to hear Obama’s latest speech.
While last month he was promoting his jobs bill to Congress with the refrain “pass the bill,” this week he began taking a series of executive actions that don’t need congressional approval, highlighted by the new slogan “We can’t wait.”
“We can’t wait for Congress to do its job. So where they won’t act, I will,” Obama said, citing his administration’s waivers to the No Child Left Behind law and actions to help people stay in their devalued homes.
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call riffed on the new slogan in a news release.
“Coloradans are worse off now than they were when President Obama took office, and no amount of campaign cash or empty rhetoric will put our state back to work,” Call said. “The reality is Colorado can’t wait any longer for President Obama to get serious about turning our economy around.”
Obama’s latest proposal, announced Wednesday, seeks reductions in student loan debt.
Most new jobs will require more than a high school diploma, making college crucial, the president said.
“It’s never been more important, but let’s face it, it’s never been more expensive,” Obama said.
Obama said he and his wife had $120,000 in student debt by the time they graduated from law school, and the payments were higher than their mortgage.
“This is something Michelle and I know about firsthand. I’ve been in your shoes,” Obama said.
The website FinAid.org reported that in June, Americans’ student loan debt exceeded credit card debt for the first time, with $950 million owed today in federal and private loans.
Obama’s plan would limit student loan payments starting next year to 10 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income, instead of 15 percent.
All debt would be forgiven after 20 years, instead of the current 25.
Also, some 5.8 million borrowers who have both private loans and loans direct from the government could consolidate them into one government loan, with an interest rate cut of up to 0.5 percent.
“We’re going to make it easier for you to have one payment a month at a better interest rate,” Obama said.
Hecklers interrupted Obama once, after he mentioned Republican opposition to environmental regulations, to urge Obama to block the Keystone XL pipeline, a pipeline from Canada to Louisiana that would carry Canadian tar sands oil.
“Protect our children, our future,” one man yelled.
The protesters unfurled a 5-foot banner reading, “Stop the Keystone Pipeline Project.” They left after security agents told them to go.
“We’re looking at it right now, all right? No decision has been made,” Obama said.
His overnight stop in Denver included private fundraisers at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday.