PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania – President Barack Obama Wednesday sought to break the political siege imposed by the US oil disaster, lacerating Republicans for gutting corporate regulation and exploding deficits.
The GOP immediately blasted back, accusing the president of trying to distract attention from the ongoing catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Good speeches can't improve failing policies," said House Republic Whip Eric Cantor. “America needs more than speeches and words — we need action to begin to erase our deficits and free our children from our debt."
Obama predicted a "strong" report on jobs growth on Friday, as he mounted a defense of his economic policies in a campaign-style speech that provoked an immediate clash with his foes ahead of November's mid-term polls.
"As November approaches, leaders in the other party will campaign furiously on the same economic arguments they've been making for decades," Obama said.
"We can't go back, we have got to move forward," Obama said, accusing Republicans of embracing "tax cuts" that were not paid for, for millionaires who didn't need them and putting "industry insiders" in charge of oversight.
"Fortunately we don't have to look back too many years to see how their agenda turns out," Obama said during a trip to Pittsburgh, a former steel town that has recreated itself as a hub for green energy and economic regeneration.
"We know where those ideas lead us, and now we have a choice as a nation," Obama said.
"We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future," said Obama, seeking to change the subject as he faces rising criticism over his handling of the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal angrily attacked the White House earlier this week for what he called a poor, disorganized response to what is now the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, according to experts. State officials had been hamstrung, he said, by inept federal regulations while receiving little on-the-ground relief. He and others are already beginning to describe the crisis as Obama’s Katrina, a reference to the Bush administration’s poor response to the hurricane devastation of New Orleans.
And on Wednesday, Sen. David Vitter said that Obama needs to treat the spill like war, and establish a clear chain of command to deal with the worst oil spill in American history.
Vitter told Politico that while Louisianans are "mad as hell at BP," opinion is also turning against a federal government they believe is failing them again five years after Hurricane Katrina.
"There's enormous frustration here. For sure, everybody's mad as hell at BP... [but] people here are very frustrated and now I think angry at the federal response as being slow and inadequate," Vitter told Politico in a phone interview Wednesday. "In terms of the developing federal response, I think this literally needs to be treated like a war. and there needs to be a clear chain of command with the Coast Guard or other federal officers in each coastal parish empowered to act hand-in-hand with the parish president."
On the economy, the GOP was no less harsh. Many Republicans said they were shocked by the tone of Obama’s speech in the midst of an ongoing crisis. Republicans immediately launched a counterattack, coining a familiar criticism that the president is a fine speechmaker, but poor economic strategist.
"It's clear from his harsh partisan rhetoric today that President Obama has run out of excuses for his broken promises on the economy," said John Boehner, the top Republican in the House of Representatives.
"Instead of creating the jobs and prosperity he promised, President Obama's 'new foundation' consists of more spending, more debt, more job-killing policies, and more permanent bailouts, which is really no foundation at all."
Karl Rove, a former top White House adviser to President George W. Bush, said it was a “slashing partisan” address, according to The Daily Caller.
And Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Committee Chairman and senior Bush adviser, told the Caller it was “astonishingly partisan.”
“I guess Obama figures the only hope to turn around his plummeting poll numbers is launching partisan screeds, but he seems to just get smaller and smaller by the day,” Gillespie said. “He’d be better off trying to stop oil from spewing into the Gulf than spewing political bile into the media.”
Obama said that mitigating the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico was the "top priority" of his administration.
"We are waging this battle every minute of every day," he said, but also tried to focus attention on the tough decisions he made after taking office in the teeth of the deepest economic crisis in generations.
"We added jobs for five of the last six months and expect to see strong job growth on Friday's report," Obama said, referring to imminent official employment figures for May.
The previous Labor Department jobs report, for April, showed that the economy created 290,000 jobs, though the unemployment rate spiked up to 9.9 percent.
© AFP 2013