President Obama toured Pennsylvania and New York by bus last week to promote his college affordability plan.
But the tour, with its back-to-school theme, was also the opening salvo in an upcoming budget battle with Congressional Republicans.
On Thursday, Obama spoke to a packed high school gym in Syracuse, where the fall semester has not yet begun.
“I know you’re still on summer vacation,” he told the crowd. “You’ve got a few more days. So taking the time to be here when you’ve still got a little bit — that last little bit — of summer break, that’s a big deal.”
Obama can appreciate how the Syracuse students feel, since Congress is also on its own extended summer recess, offering a temporary respite from the long-running battle over government spending levels.
Obama told a town hall meeting in Binghamton, New York that when lawmakers return next month, he’ll keep pushing to restore funding for Head Start and other programs that have been squeezed by across-the-board budget cuts.
“When we get back to Washington, Congress gets back to Washington, this is going to be a major debate,” he said. “It’s the same debate we’ve been having for the last two years. The difference is, now deficits are already coming down.”
Obama acknowledged that rising health care costs still pose a long-term challenge for the federal budget, but he argues there’s no immediate crisis. In the near term, the tide of red ink is rapidly receding, though some lawmakers continue to insist on additional cuts.
“Unfortunately right now the federal budget generally has been a political football in Washington,” he said.
Speaking of football, the president surprised the girl’s soccer team at Tully Central High School in Tully, New York. The president talked with the soccer players about sports and summer jobs. Then he turned to the main message of this bus tour: college affordability.
“I’m assuming everybody here is going to want to go to college,” he said, to resounding affirmation from the players.
Obama says higher education is the best investment young people can make in their future, but with tuition costs outstripping paychecks, many families face an unpleasant choice between a heavy debt load or skipping college altogether.
Obama’s plan includes a new ratings system to help families find the best bargains in college. He also wants to use those ratings to steer federal aid, though that part of the proposal would require approval from Congress.
“You know, that’s always challenging, but these are ideas that should have bipartisan support,” he said. “Of course, so should Obamacare. It’s actually a really good idea.”
The final stop on the president’s bus tour was Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsyania, the hometown of Vice President Biden. Obama noted that it was five years ago Friday that he first publicly announced Biden would be his running mate.
The Vice President joined Obama on that last leg of the tour, and it was a happy homecoming for the blue-collar Biden, who’s mulling his own bid for the White House in 2016.
“The people who grew up in neighborhoods like this one, the one I grew up here in Scranton, have dreams just as big, just as expansive, and just as accomplishable as any place in the world,” Biden said.