By Amie Parnes and Russell Berman - 04/04/12 12:19 AM EDT
President Obama delivered an election-year assault on Republicans on Tuesday for pushing a “Trojan horse” budget plan that he said outlines a “radical vision” for the future of the United States.
In a clear sign that the general election is under way, the president, in the address, criticized Mitt Romney by name for the first time and mocked House Republicans for creating a “laughable” budget that “makes the Contract With America look like the New Deal.”
“It is a prescription for decline,” Obama added.
The broadside was the latest in a series of addresses delivered over the presidential seal that have sounded like campaign speeches, and it drew an immediate and aggressive rebuttal from leading Republicans, who denounced Obama’s handling of the economy and the debt.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the architect of the GOP budget that Obama assailed, said the president has “chosen tired and cynical political attacks as he focuses on his own reelection.”
“History will not be kind to a president who, when it came time to confront our generation’s defining challenge, chose to duck and run,” Ryan said. “The president refuses to take responsibility for the economy and refuses to offer a credible plan to address the most predictable economic crisis in our history.”
Obama pivoted firmly toward the general election in the roughly 40-minute speech, linking Romney to a policy blueprint that Democrats believe will be a significant liability for GOP candidates in the fall.
“One of my potential opponents, Gov. Romney, has said that he hoped a similar version of this plan from last year would be introduced as a bill on day one of his presidency,” Obama said. “He said that he’s very supportive of this new budget. And he even called it marvelous, which is a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing a budget.
“It’s a word you don’t often hear generally,” Obama said to laughter.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) slammed the president for taking “partisan potshots” and said he has “chosen to campaign rather than govern.”
“Instead of reaching across the aisle to enact the changes needed to restore America’s prosperity, the president has resorted to distortions … and recommitted himself to policies that have made our country’s debt crisis worse,” Boehner said in a statement.
“He’s so unserious about our country’s problems that he’s offered a budget that failed to garner a single vote in the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate. And his own party leadership in the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in more than 1,000 days.”
Obama saved his sharpest barbs for the Republican Party, which he accused of lacking “humility” and “doubling down” on failed economic policies.
He unleashed an extended attack on “trickle-down economics,” and made plain — as he did in a speech in Kansas late last year — that income inequality and economic populism will be central to his reelection message.
Casting his own agenda as “centrist,” Obama argued, both during the speech and in a subsequent question-and-answer session, that the Republican Party has veered sharply to the right.
“Instead of moderating their views even slightly,” Obama said, “the Republicans running Congress right now have doubled down and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the Contract With America look like the New Deal.”
He highlighted the tax-increasing budget deals that Ronald Reagan signed in the 1980s and said the conservative icon “could not get through a Republican primary today.”
The Ryan budget cleared the House on Thursday in a 228-191 party-line vote, setting up an election-year contrast with Democrats on spending and the debt. The budget would shave off about $5 trillion more than the president’s 2013 proposal and would create a “premium support” option to help future Medicare recipients obtain private insurance.
Boehner last week said the Ryan plan is a “vision” of how the party would govern should it secure control of the House and Senate in November.
After the plan was passed in the House, the White House attacked Republicans in a statement, saying they “banded together to shower millionaires and billionaires with a massive tax cut paid for by ending Medicare as we know it.”
But a fight over spending and the deficit is one the GOP is eager to have, and Republican leaders responded swiftly and aggressively to Obama’s rebuke.
The chairman of the House GOP conference, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), who co-chaired the failed deficit “supercommittee” last fall, said the president was “unhinged” and engaged in “fear-mongering.”
— Posted at 1:56 p.m. and updated at 8:19 p.m.