By Alexander Bolton and Jonathan Easley - 02/09/12 06:48 PM EST
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Thursday accused President Obama and his advisers of using dirty tactics that demean the presidency.
The normally reserved leader delivered one of his most blistering attacks ever against Obama at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
“These things demean the office of president. They corrode our democracy and they need to stop.”
McConnell cited a gag order the administration placed on an insurance company during the healthcare debate, research the administration has done on the tax records of political opponents and plans by Democrats in Congress to hold hearings on Republican fundraising groups.
“For a president who spends so much time talking about fairness, there’s a serious shortage of it at the White House and among many of his closest allies,” McConnell said. “Again and again this administration has used the resources of the government itself to intimidate or silence those who question or oppose it, and reward their friends and punish their enemies.”
McConnell brought up an investigation the Department of Health and Human Services conducted into Humana, a leading provider of Medicare Advantage, after the company mailed letters to beneficiaries urging them to lobby lawmakers to oppose cuts to the program.
The minority leader also accused Democrats of trying to intimidate campaign donors, making reference to plans by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to hold hearings on super-PACs — a major issue heading into the presidential election.
“One of the top Democrats announced a plan to haul law-abiding citizens before a congressional panel just because they don’t happen to agree with causes he supports,” McConnell said. “You know the drill: Expose the folks to public view, release the liberal thugs on them and then hope the public pressure or unwanted attention scares them from supporting similar causes down the road.”
During an MSNBC appearance earlier this month, Schumer said: “We’re going to have hearings on the super-PACs, we’re going to ask the leaders of the super-PACs and the contributors to come before us and ask us why they don’t want to be for disclosure, and why they don’t want to reveal what they’re doing.”
McConnell also accused the president and his advisers of probing the tax records of political adversaries.
“I don’t know about you, but I think the leader of the free world and his advisers have better things to do than dig through other people’s tax returns,” he said.
Republicans suspect the administration has selectively enforced obscure tax laws against political organizations allied with the GOP.
In May, Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman requesting information about communications the IRS has had with the White House regarding tax enforcement decisions.
“Enforcement of gift taxes on contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations engaged in public policy debate runs an unacceptable risk of chilling political speech, which receives the highest level of constitutional protection under the First Amendment,” Hatch wrote in a letter signed by five Senate GOP colleagues.
McConnell also hit the president hard on the economy, accusing Democrats of railroading the country during the first two years of Obama’s presidency, when they controlled both chambers of Congress.
“We’re not in this mess because of a tsunami in Japan or a debt crisis in Europe,” he said. “We’re in it because [Obama] got everything he wanted for two long years.
“When November comes around, voters will know who was in charge … they’ll know this president’s record, and after that he’ll have as much time to play golf as he wants.”
The senator said Obama spent 2009 and 2010 “reconfiguring the U.S. economy” to put the government in charge of the banks, auto industry and healthcare.
But McConnell gave credit to Republicans for the budding economic recovery, which he said is happening “not because of the president but in spite of him.”
“If I were President Obama, I’d keep the champagne on ice, because this is not an economy to be proud of,” he said.
McConnell laid the blame for the fourth consecutive year of trillion-dollar deficits squarely on the president, saying he had been “totally AWOL” while Republicans fought “tooth and nail” for spending reductions.
“That’s how historians will remember the Obama economy,” McConnell concluded. “As a colossal failure that managed to bring about one good thing — a resurgence of commonsense conservatism.”
Democrats have recently taken to arguing that Republicans are trying to hold back policies that could help the economic recovery to hurt Obama. Democratic leaders have specifically mentioned efforts to extend a payroll-tax cut that expires at the end of the month.
“We’ve had five straight months of the unemployment rate coming down,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said Tuesday. “Let’s make no mistake, there are some Republicans who think that doesn’t really work with their strategy of defeating President Obama. These are some of the same voices who are opposing any bipartisan agreement to extend the payroll-tax cut.”
McConnell said in October 2010 that defeating Obama was his highest political goal.
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” he said then.
— This story was updated at 2:46 p.m.