Obama shifts into campaign mode, blasts Boehner, GOP on economy

With the critical midterm election less than eight weeks away, President Obama sharpened his rhetoric on Wednesday, excoriating Republican policies as “bad for America.”

Obama went after House Republican Leader John Boehner repeatedly in his address from Cleveland, a location chosen because of Boehner’s economic speech from that city two weeks ago.

In some of his sharpest campaign language this year, Obama accused Boehner (Ohio) and congressional Republicans of promoting fear instead of constructive economic policies, and said the Republican leader had laid out no new ideas or policies in his own address.

"There was just the same philosophy we already tried for the last decade — the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place: cut more taxes for millionaires and cut more rules for corporations,” said Obama, who named Boehner eight times in the speech.

The campaign-style speech from Obama coincided with an aggressive push by the Democratic National Committee, which sent supporters an e-mail Wednesday titled “We can beat them.” The push comes amid dire polls suggesting Democrats could lose the House and Senate this fall.

In his speech, Obama explicitly called for the phasing out of tax cuts on the wealthiest taxpayers, despite opposition from members of his own party and his own former budget director. 

Obama said taxes should be raised on individuals making at least $200,000 and families making $250,000, and accused Boehner and Republicans of favoring tax cuts for millionaires

“Make no mistake:  he and his party believe we should also give a permanent tax cut to the wealthiest two percent of Americans,” Obama said.

Obama also laid out his latest ideas for stimulating a sluggish economy that threatens to take down Democratic majorities in the House and Senate this fall.

The president formally called for a permanent extension of the research-and-development tax credit for businesses, and for businesses to be able to write off their capital investments in 2011.

“This will help small businesses upgrade their plants and equipment, and will encourage large corporations to get off the sidelines and start putting their profits to work in places like Cleveland and Toledo and Dayton,” he said of the tax provisions.

He said he would pay for those provisions by eliminating tax breaks that he said encourage businesses to ship workers overseas, and used GOP opposition to ending those tax breaks to tear into Boehner again.

“To most of you, this is just common sense. But not to Mr. Boehner and his allies,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Boehner announced that House Republicans want to pursue a two-point plan to help the economy, replete with reducing spending to levels before Obama took office and extending the Bush tax cuts.

“If the president is serious about finally focusing on jobs, a good start would be taking the advice of his recently departed budget director and freezing all tax rates, coupled with cutting federal spending to where it was before all the bailouts, government takeovers and ‘stimulus’ spending sprees," Boehner said after Obama's speech.

Obama accused Republicans who have opposed his agenda of preying on voter anxiety over the economy to score political points.

“People are frustrated and angry and anxious about the future,” Obama said. “I understand that.  I also understand that in a political campaign, the easiest thing for the other side to do is ride this fear and anger all the way to Election Day.”

Obama’s rhetoric harkened back to the campaign message that got him elected.

“A lot has changed since I came here in those final days of the last election, but what hasn’t is the choice facing this country,” Obama said. “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’ll face in November."

Obama acknowledged that even though the economy has stabilized, the recovery has been “painfully slow.”

“Millions of jobs were lost before our policies even had a chance to take effect — a hole so deep that even though we’ve added jobs again, millions of Americans remain unemployed,” Obama said.

The president criticized Republicans, who “have said no to just about every policy I’ve proposed since taking office,” and he questioned why they are opposing small-business tax cuts and loans.

Obama stood by the packages he has passed since taking office and criticized Republican opposition to another of his proposals unveiled this week, to spend an additional $50 billion on infrastructure projects.

“Despite the fact that this has traditionally been an issue with bipartisan support, Mr. Boehner has so far said no to infrastructure.  That’s bad for America – and that too is what this election is about,” Obama said.  

The push for more infrastructure spending, however, also has run into opposition from some Democrats. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Obama’s hand-picked candidate for that seat, said in a statement Wednesday that he would not support more spending in a stimulus package.

A number of centrist Democrats also have voiced support for extending all of the tax cuts.

Obama, however, said it was Republicans who were holding up continued tax cuts for most taxpayers.

“So let me be clear to Mr. Boehner and everyone else: We should not hold middle-class tax cuts hostage any longer," Obama said. “We are ready, this week, to give tax cuts to every American making $250,000 or less. For any income over this amount, the tax rates would go back to what they were under President Clinton. This isn’t to punish folks who are better off — it’s because we can’t afford the $700 billion price tag.”

Obama touched on his and first lady Michelle Obama's personal family histories, illustrating what he says was a culture of responsibility that rewarded hard work and not greed.

Obama lamented the absence of bipartisanship in Washington following the economic collapse of 2008, but put all the blame on Republicans.

“My hope was that the crisis would cause everyone, Democrats and Republicans, to pull together and tackle our problems in a practical way,” Obama said. “But as we all know, things didn’t work out that way.”

This story was posted at 2:27 p.m. and updated at 4:45 p.m.