By Molly K. Hooper and Sam Youngman - 07/01/10 12:53 AM EDT
President Barack Obama took direct aim at the House Republican leader on Wednesday, mocking him for comparing the 2008 financial implosion to an ant.
Obama’s criticism of Minority Leader John Boehner comes four months before the midterm elections and represents the president’s sharpest attack on the Ohio Republican, who has his eyes on becoming Speaker of the House in 2011.
“That’s right. He compared the financial crisis to an ant,” Obama stated. “The same financial crisis that led to the loss of nearly 8 million jobs. The same crisis that cost people their homes and their lives’ savings.”
The remarks reflect the high stakes of the election and a ramping-up of the partisan rhetoric between Obama and Boehner.
Boehner on Wednesday fired back at Obama, saying, “The president should be focused on solving the problems of the American people … instead of my choice of metaphors. I wasn’t minimizing the crisis America faced — I was pointing out that Washington Democrats have produced a bill that will actually kill more jobs.”
He added, “The American people want leadership from the White House, not more childish partisanship.”
Obama and Boehner like to golf and both have smoking habits, but beyond that, they don’t have much in common.
They appear to enjoy bantering with one another, most famously when Obama last year called the tanned GOP leader a “person of color.”
Boehner later responded, “You only tease the ones you love.”
Republicans in the Senate are expected to pick up seats, but not enough to win the majority this fall. Because of that, the White House is especially focused on maintaining the Democrats’ control of the House.
While many Democrats publicly predict they will again be running the lower chamber in the 112th Congress, some are privately worried that Boehner will seize Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) gavel.
Vice President Joe Biden last year said that if the GOP wins back the House, it would be the “end of the road” for the White House’s agenda.
On Wednesday, Obama and a flurry of e-mails sent out by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sought to portray Boehner and Republicans as extremists.
“[Boehner] should ask the men and women who’ve been out of work for months at a time,” Obama said. “He should ask the Americans who send me letters every night that talk about how they’re barely hanging on.”
The president blasted Republicans repeatedly for opposing his economic policies, stressing a theme the White House is pushing: that Republicans are in the pockets of big business.
“The Republican leader might want to maintain a status quo on Wall Street,” Obama said, “but we want to move America forward.”
Democrats have been piling on Boehner since his interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was published earlier this week. Boehner told the newspaper that while there are faults in the regulatory system, the Wall Street reform bill will not fix them. The paper reported that Boehner favors paying for the war with Social Security funds and privatizing Social Security. Boehner has denied making those statements.
Six House Democrats from Ohio held a press conference on Wednesday to blast their fellow Buckeye State colleague.
Citing Boehner’s views on Social Security, Rep. Marcy Kaptur called Boehner “un-American.”
The Tribune-Review article paraphrased Boehner’s quotation by writing that “ensuring there’s enough money to pay for the war will require reforming the country’s entitlement system.”
Boehner told The Hill, “I never said those things. I never said anything about privatizing Social Security or using money from the Social Security trust fund to pay for the war. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He did say he supports raising the retirement age, noting that Democrats have done likewise.
“It’s the same thing that [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer [D-Md.] talked about last week, [White House budget director] Peter Orszag, [former Congressional Budget Office chief] Alice Rivlin, one of those things being considered is raising the retirement age — I didn’t say anything different than what they said,” Boehner said.
Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) disagreed.
Space asserted that Hoyer’s plan would make the benefits more progressive, saying that “raising that age is to be accompanied by an increase in actual benefits. Now, that’s not what John Boehner’s talking about. He’s talking about not increasing benefits, just making it much more difficult for people to collect what’s rightfully theirs.”
Obama on Wednesday again jumped on Rep. Joe Barton’s (R-Texas) controversial apology to BP. Barton likened the Obama administration’s establishment of a BP escrow fund for Gulf Coast residents to a “shakedown.”
“The top Republican on the Energy Committee even had the nerve to apologize to BP for the fact that we made them set up this fund,” Obama said. “Apologize to BP!
“He actually called the fund ‘a tragedy.’ A tragedy? A tragedy is what the people of the Gulf are going through right now. That’s the tragedy. And our government has a responsibility to hold the corporations accountable that caused it. They want to take us backwards. We want to move forward.”
DNC Chairman Tim Kaine echoed the president later on Wednesday, saying “we tried Republicans ideas — and those ideas led to a decade of near-zero growth and put America on the disastrous path to economic crisis.”