ATLANTA — THE PITCH: President Barack Obama traveled Tuesday to Atlanta to build support for policies meant to help the millions of Americans who are in debt from education loans. The new policies affect third-party lenders that contract with the government to collect on federal student debt. He was also scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.
WHAT CHANGES? The firms will be required to better inform borrowers about repayment options and notify them when they are delinquent on payments. The government will create a website where debtors can view all their U.S. loans in one place. Another website will be created where borrowers can file complaints about loan servicers.
THE SETTING: Obama traveled to Georgia Tech to deliver his speech. While the Atlanta area is friendly to Democrats, the majority of the state is not. Obama lost Georgia in both presidential elections, and an exit poll showed his popularity rating stood at just 42 percent during last year's midterm election. Republicans hold every statewide office in Georgia and a solid majority in the state's General Assembly. Even in local races, Georgia Republicans go to extremes to pillory the Democratic president.
LOCAL RECEPTION: Obama was greeted at the airport by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democratic supporter, and U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal attended the speech at Georgia Tech and also met privately with the president. Democrat Jason Carter, who ran unsuccessfully for governor, and state Democratic lawmakers were also there.
THE CROWD: Several thousand people gathered at The Pavilion at Georgia Tech for the speech. Karan Jani, 26, a graduate student studying astrophysics, described himself as an Obama supporter. He saw Obama speak during past campaigns and "wanted to see if he still has the charm," Jani said. He questioned whether the changes proposed by Obama would save enough money to seriously put a big dent in education costs.
"I think it still needs a lot of thought," he said.
Sarah Platt, 23, an undergraduate studying mechanical engineering, said she expects to graduate with substantial student debt and noted that other countries offer free or highly subsidized education. She praised one of the new rules that will make sure that extra payments are applied to high-interest loans first.
"I'm definitely going to be struggling under student debt — it definitely resonated here," she said.