Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012 | 7:05 p.m.
RENO — Pivoting to a new stump speech at a community college here, President Barack Obama argued Tuesday he would devote a second term to policies that would make an affordable education accessible “to everybody, not just the wealthy,” saying that’s the foundation of America’s economic might.
Before a boisterous crowd of more than 2,000, Obama also accused his Republican rival Mitt Romney of proposing cuts to financial aid programs as a way to fund a tax plan that would benefit the country’s richest.
“Making sure those doors are open to everybody, that is why I ran for president,” Obama said. “That is what my presidency is about. That is why I’m running for a second term.”
Obama summarized Romney’s approach to education policy, borrowing from lines Romney uttered earlier in the campaign, this way:
“So this is his plan. That’s his answer to a young person hoping to go to college — shop around and borrow money from your parents if you have to.”
Obama’s new stump speech, which he unveiled earlier Tuesday in Ohio, jumped from the economy and Medicare to education. But his message kept to the same contours of the debate that have dominated the presidential campaign so far: The wealthy vs. the middle class and the overall role of government.
“Government can’t help folks who won’t help themselves,” Obama said. “Parents have to be parents. Young people have to stay disciplined and focused. But if you’re willing to work hard, a college education in the 21st century should be available to everybody, not just the wealthy few.”
Romney’s spokesman fired back that Obama hasn’t exactly achieved that promise during his first term.
“President Obama’s policies have only made the problems of college affordability and student debt worse,” said Mason Harrison, Romney’s Nevada spokesman. “Under President Obama, the costs of college have skyrocketed — making it more difficult for students to attend college — and his economic policies have made it harder for graduates to get jobs.
“Mitt Romney will encourage innovation and competition to make college more affordable, and his economic policies will give recent graduates the job opportunities they deserve.”
Obama said the budget plan put forward by Romney’s running mate Rep. Paul Ryan would cut funding for education by 20 percent, resulting in 1 million fewer students receiving federal grants and cutting financial aid to 10 million students.
According to the Associated Press, those estimates assume the cuts in Ryan's budget are applied evenly across all programs starting in 2014.
While Ryan’s budget would keep the top Pell grant award at $5,500, fewer students would be eligible for the award in future years.
Earlier in the day, Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Reno, warned voters not to listen to Obama’s speeches, dubbing his re-election effort the “Novocain campaign.”
“You can listen to enough of what that person says and it can numb you enough that you’ll probably vote for that person again,” Amodei said of Obama. “Forget the Novocain campaign. Look for somebody who will tell you the truth on Medicare.”
But the crowd at Truckee Meadows Community College appeared anything but numb once Obama took the stage. Several times they interrupted the speech with chants of “four more years,” booed at the drop of Romney’s name and cheered Obama’s applause lines.
Clare Zecena, a special education teacher in Reno who earned her bachelor’s degree in 2009, said she left the speech “hopeful.”
“He really understands what regular people have gone through,” she said of Obama. “Mitt Romney, it’s easy for him to say borrow from your parents. But my mom was a single mom of four. I got my bachelor’s degree through Pell grants. I wouldn’t have a degree without them.”
Obama’s Reno speech was the first in a two-day swing through Nevada. He is set to speak at Canyon Springs High School in North Las Vegas on Wednesday morning. It’s his 13th visit to Nevada since he became president and his sixth this year.