President Obama was prepared to spend his week contrasting himself with Republicans on students loans, but Mitt Romney deflated that argument yesterday afternoon. The 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act lowered the interest rates from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent for federal student loans, but comes with an expiration date: this July. A one-year extension would cost just $6 billion dollars, but would benefit over 7 million young people with student loans. The Obama campaign has highlighted the lack of action from congressional Republicans on the issue, and the president will speak at three college campuses today and tomorrow. He can’t use this against Romney, though, after the presumptive Republican nominee came out in support of the extension yesterday.
Romney’s pivot to the center doesn’t mean the issue is settled. This marks the first point of disagreement between Romney and his party since he cleared the primary competition. How congressional Republicans respond over the following weeks could hint at what a Romney presidency might look like. Behind all of the accusations that Romney lacks core convictions has been the insinuation that, as president, he would not have much to offer in terms of policy proposals. As the AP highlighted yesterday, Romney has yet to release anything more than vague overviews of what he might do. Instead, it seems likely that a Romney presidency will take its cues from John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, responding to the whims of congressional Republicans.
That theory will now be put to a test. Traditionally, a presidential nominee is seen as the leader of the party until he or she wins or loses the election, with partisans in Congress disinclined to take any actions that could harm their candidate. One might expect House Republicans to shift their tone and fall in line behind the new Romney-instituted platform on student loans. But I’m not so sure the Tea Party freshman will defer to Romney.