By BRIAN BAKST
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann criticized a directive by President Barack Obama to ease student loan debt as an "abuse of power" that will give people incentive to dodge debt.
The candidates reacted Thursday to a decision Obama announced a day earlier to cap required payments for some college loan borrowers at a lower percentage of their income and forgive payments for others after 20 years. He used executive authority to accelerate a law that wasn't supposed to go into effect until 2014.
"I believe it is abuse of power from the executive to impose via an executive order a wholesale change in the student loan," Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, said during an education forum in New York put on by The College Board and News Corp.
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Appearing by satellite from Minneapolis where she was hosting a fundraiser later Thursday, Bachmann said that the loan breaks could push costs onto other taxpayers.
Bachmann said the change creates a "moral hazard" when it comes to student debt.
"There is a morality in keeping our financial promises, and I don't think we should push that off onto the taxpayer," she said. "The individual needs to repay and be responsible for repaying their student loan debt."
Another GOP candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also took a dim view of Obama's action, calling it a "Ponzi scheme."
Gingrich said at the education forum that private loans should be reprivatized before the president "bankrupts the entire country by promising to every young person you will not have to pay your student loan as a student. However you will later have to pay off the national debt as a taxpayer."
Obama's plan will accelerate a measure passed by Congress that reduces the maximum required payment on student loans from 15 percent of discretionary income annually to 10 percent. The plan goes into effect in 2012, instead of 2014. In addition, the White House says the outstanding loan amount would be forgiven after 20 years, instead of 25. About 1.6 million borrowers could be affected.
The administration says the plan won't cost taxpayers anything and could actually save as much as $2 billion. Borrowers would be allowed to consolidate a direct loan from the government with one issued under the Federal Family Education Loan Program. The savings come from no longer having to a pay subsidy to the lender, the administration says.
Obama said on Wednesday that the plan will help boost the economy. Debt-saddled graduates will have more money to spend on things like buying homes, he said. Student loans are the No. 2 source of household debt. Total student debt now exceeds $1 trillion and the average indebtedness is rising.
Changes approved by Congress last year moved student loans to direct lending by eliminating banks as the middlemen. Before that, borrowers could get loans directly from the government or from the Federal Family Education Loan Program; the latter were issued by private lenders but basically insured by the government. The law was passed along with the health care overhaul with the anticipation that it could save about $60 billion over a decade.
--- Associated Press Education Writer Kimberly Hefling in Washington contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)