Remember that NYT piece last week wondering about friction between Romney and the House GOP as as he tacks towards the center for the general election while they try to hold the line on the right?
Here’s the first wisp of smoke.
“I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” Romney said at a joint news conference with Florida Senator Marco Rubio. “There was some concern that that would expire halfway through the year, and I support extending the temporary relief on interest rates for students as a result of student loans, obviously, in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.”
In publicly breaking with his own party, Romney is taking away a potential wedge issue for President Obama’s campaign — and giving hope to Democrats that they may find new momentum for the legislation [to extend the rates]. The deadline for the current, low interest rates to expire is July 1…
Republicans oppose the bill in part on the grounds that it isn’t paid for…
Asked whether House Republican leadership would get behind Courtney’s bill, given Romney’s comments, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner was non-committal.
GOP Rep. Jeff Landry told the Times last week vis-a-vis Romney, “We’re not a cheerleading squad. We’re the conductor. We’re supposed to drive the train.” We’ll find out soon how true that is, but in the meantime read this Daily Caller piece from Friday explaining succinctly what a clever trap this was for Democrats to set. It’s not just that the extension isn’t paid for that bothers Republicans, it’s that lower rates keep the higher-education bubble inflated and keep the Democrats’ pals in academia flush with cash. But with the lower rates set to expire automatically in July, Romney was in a bind. If he sided with Obama, there’d be instant agita within the GOP that our “Massachusetts moderate” nominee is already going wobbly on spending. If he sided with House Republicans, Obama would spend the next week bashing him for hating kids and education and the middle class and all things good and true. In fact, The One actually organized a multistate trip and an appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s show expressly for that purpose.
Romney chose door number one because he thinks he has a shot at winning young voters, or at least at enough young voters to make Obama’s lift that much heavier in November. One out of every two new college grads is unemployed or underemployed; among 18-to-24 year olds, fewer than 50 percent say they’d like to see a second term for O. Romney’s not going to hand Obama an excuse to get an otherwise ambivalent core constituency excited, especially when the cost of extending the lower rate is “only” $5.6 billion this year. He can agree with him on this and then bash him on bigger spending items (I think/hope). Besides, Romney’s probably looking for a high-profile issue on which to distinguish himself from House Republicans. He’s already praised Ryan’s budget so he’s checked the “fiscal conservative” box; now he’s going to do something for centrists and independents by daring Boehner to undercut him. He likely figures that, with the primary set to unofficially end tomorrow night in Pennsylvania and the general election to start in earnest, the House GOP will be reluctant to kneecap him on a relatively small-ticket item. And if they do, that’s fine: Centrists will feel reassured that he won’t necessarily be led by the right and conservatives will turn out to vote for him against O in November anyway.
Exit question one: Romney will definitely man up and have that “serious conversation” with America about entitlement reform when the time comes, right? Exit question two: Does this mean, contra David Plouffe, that he really isn’t the, er, most conservative nominee since Goldwater?