In a sharply partisan speech widely viewed as a bid to shore up his left-wing support, President Barack Obama attacked House Speaker John Boehner for taking a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude to budget negotiations, while threatening to wield his veto pen against any Republican budget reforms that he deems unfair.
Obama also rejected the notion that his proposed “Buffett rule” to tax wealthier Americans amounts to class warfare.
“Either we gut education and medical research or we’ve got to reform the tax code,” he says. “This is not class warfare — it’s math. The money has to come from someplace.”
“Obama is now just as concerned with politics as he is with substance,” Democratic pollster and Fox News commentator Doug Schoen told Newsmax after the president’s speech today. “This is as much about the election next year as it is about balancing the budget and creating jobs this year.
“Class warfare and tax increases are all about setting up the Republicans for political attacks, not bipartisan cooperation — as the rhetoric in today's speech made clear,” Schoen said.
Schoen’s view that Obama’s speech, in which the president promised to shave $3 trillion over the next decade from the deficit, in part by raising $1.5 trillion in new tax revenue mostly on the backs of wealthier Americans, was a political exercise rather than a viable policy proposal was widely echoed across the political spectrum.
Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato of the University of Virginia tells Newsmax: “There's no question the speech was fundamentally political. The White House knows there is no chance most of this package can pass the Republican House, maybe even the Senate. So why do it?
“If Obama is to win a second term, he has to re-energize his Democratic base, which has been in a funk, and also attract back millions of Independents that have left his camp,” Sabato explains. “Polling shows the millionaire's tax strongly appeals to both groups.”
The Washington Post reported that it “amounts more to an opening play in the fall debate over the economy than another attempt to find common ground with the opposing party.”
Politico.com said the speech “reads more like a blueprint for shoring up his restless Democratic base than a vehicle for reaching across the aisle in search of bipartisan compromise.”
In part, that was because of the strident tone the president took toward Republican rival Boehner. The speaker has maintained the so-called “grand bargain” to reform taxes and entitlements blew up when Obama tried to add in additional tax increases in the 11th hour of negotiations.
But today, Obama blamed Boehner, saying he had “walked away” from a deal that would have addressed the nation’s most fundamental balance-sheet issues.
Obama said he was encouraged last week when Speaker Boehner said the nation’s problems could not be resolved with a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach. But then, he said, Boehner ruled out tax increases in the same speech.
“So the speaker says you can’t have it my way or the highway, then says it’s got to be my way or the high way. That’s not smart. It’s not right,” Obama said.
In keeping with the political tone of the speech, Republicans fired back. Boehner said Obama “has not made a serious contribution [to the congressional debt committee’s] work today.” Speaking of the president’s apparent strategy for re-election, he added: “Pitting one group of Americans against another is not leadership.”
Boehner held out hope there could be some common ground for agreement on efforts to grow jobs, however. He said Republicans were interested in moving forward with free-trade agreements, and perhaps some additional infrastructure spending.
President Obama’s rhetoric has grown progressively sharper as his standing in the polls has plummeted. A new CBS/New York Times poll Monday showed that his approval had reached an all-time low of just 43 percent, compared to 50 percent who disapprove. Other surveys have the president’s approval as low as 39 percent.
Also, Rasmussen Reports on Monday released a poll with even more worrisome numbers for all the president’s men: Only 34 percent of self-identified undecided voters approve of the president’s job performance, compared with a whopping 64 percent who disapprove.
In addition to $1.5 trillion in new taxes, the deficit-reduction package the president outlined this morning proposes to save $1.1 trillion from the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, $430 billion from interest savings, and $580 billion in “cuts and reforms across all mandatory programs.”
Neither raising the eligibility age for Medicare or Social Security nor entitlement cuts are among the president’s proposals.
Obama, who has presided over the most rapid increase in the national debt of any U.S. president ever, over $4 trillion and counting, also blamed “profligate spending in Washington” for the nation’s budget woes. Democrats are expected to applaud the president’s decision not to address the mounting fiscal problems facing Social Security and Medicare.
Republicans have gone on record warning those programs must be reformed in order to preserve their viability for future generations. Despite the rising flood of trillions in red ink the entitlements are projected to create in the future, Democrats see the issue as a political winner for them in next year’s elections.
Obama threatened to veto GOP reforms if they don’t meet his standards for fairness. “I will not support any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans,” he said.
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