In the most sharply partisan speech of his presidency, President Obama blasted Republicans on Wednesday for trying to "ride this fear and anger all the way to Election Day."
After initially stumbling out of the gate in speech in Cleveland by declaring that he was "in the great state of Illinois," Obama referred again and again to the November elections.
He charged that Republicans have "just said no to just about every policy I've proposed since taking office," and raised the specter that the GOP might try to take Social Security away from seniors.
"No one is going to take the retirement savings of a generation and hand it over to Wall Street," he said. "Not on my watch."
The remarks appeared to be precisely the sort of "politics as usual" that candidate Obama promised to transform.
Speaking to a receptive Cuyahoga Community College audience, Obama portrayed the midterm elections as a stark choice between progress and a return to what he characterized as the failed policies of the past.
Declared Obama: "It's still fear versus hope, the past versus the future, it's still a choice between sliding backward and moving forward. That's what this election is about. That's the choice you will face in November."
The president also singled out House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, for supporting the extension of the Bush tax cuts for households earning $250,000 or more.
"Let me be clear to Mr. Boehner and everyone else," Obama said. "We should not hold middle class tax cuts hostage any longer. We are ready this week if they want, to give tax cuts to every American making $250,000 or less."
Boehner had anticipated being on the receiving end of the presidential salvo.
A frequent target of President Obama's push to rally an indifferent Democratic base in time for the November elections, Boehner launched a pre-emptive attack on the president's proposals Wednesday morning.
"The American people are asking the question, 'Where are the jobs?'" Boehner said on ABC's Good Morning America. "And here's the White House worrying about what I have got to say, instead of working together to get our economy going again and get jobs back in America."
Boehner offered two concrete proposals for jump-starting the economy:
First, he said Congress should rollback spending to its pre-stimulus 2008 level. This would save the nation $100 billion per year, Boehner said.
Second, the GOP leader many pundits expect to become the next speaker of the House said Democrats and Obama should support a two-year tax moratorium, so that businesses and consumers could be certain their taxes would not go up.
"I think the president is missing the bigger point here," Boehner said on ABC. "You can't have a strong economy if you're raising taxes on the very people you expect to invest in our economy to begin hiring people again."
Boehner cited the "uncertainty facing small businesses" as the biggest problem the economy currently faces.
The president has become increasingly outspoken in defense of his administration's handling of the economy as unemployment has resumed its upward climb. Worse, the jump to 9.6 percent unemployment occurred during what was originally billed as Democrats' "Recovery Summer."
Obama's economic plan proposes spending $50 billion over six years to rebuild 150,000 miles of roads, 4,000 miles of rail lines, and various airport runways nationwide.
The administration is trying hard to avoid using the term "stimulus" as it promotes the president's proposals.
In addition to the $50 billion of new federal spending, Obama proposes $200 billion in tax cuts over the next two years to give businesses an incentive to invest in new plants, factories, and equipment. The administration estimates much of the money would eventually be paid back to the government.
The president also wants to expand a tax break for research and development, which would cost about $100 billion over the next decade.
Boehner told Stephanopoulos: "I'm open to the president's ideas. But I think the president's missing the bigger point here . . . until this uncertainty and spending are under control, I don't think these are going to have much impact."
Douglas Schoen, a Democratic pollster and co-author of "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System," tells Newsmax that Obama's ideas are too little, too late.
"They are not enough and are doomed to fail," he says.
Most political analysts are skeptical legislation could be passed in the next 60 days anyway — let alone in time to make an impact on the economy or the midterms.
"If passed, the proposals could have real impact — in 2012," the University of Virginia's Larry J. Sabato tells Newsmax. "It is way too late for 2010, nor will the GOP's refusal to go along hurt them. Barring some major unforeseen event, the 2010 die is cast."
Increasingly, Democrats are joining the Republicans chorus questioning the president's proposals.
Former White House budget director Peter Orszag broke with Obama on Tuesday, calling for a two-year extension on all the Bush tax cuts.
The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus called Orszag's New York Times column "a hand grenade lobbed into the middle of a roiling debate among Democrats about how to handle the expiring tax cuts."
But Schoen tells Newsmax that Orszag is right.
"The president should adopt Peter Orszag's suggestion of a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts," he says.
Even Obama's secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, appeared to complicate the administration's message on the economy. During a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, Clinton suggested the federal deficit could become a threat to national security.
"Today, more than ever, our ability to exercise global leadership depends on building a strong foundation at home," she said. "That's why rising debt and crumbling infrastructure pose very real long-term national security threats."
Clinton added that President Obama understands these threats, and is working to turn around the economy.
Schoen says the president should take more direct action to find a compromise on the economy.
Obama should invite Republicans to the White House and "lock the door if necessary to force them to put aside partisan concerns and put the American people first," he tells Newsmax.
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