By Bernie Becker - 06/01/12 02:07 PM EDT
A top House Democrat slammed Jeb Bush on Friday for criticizing President Obama's economic policies while not condemning those of his brother, former President George W. Bush.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, noted that hundreds of thousands of Americans were losing their jobs in the months before former President Bush left office in 2009, and said Bush's policies tipped the scales toward the wealthy and Wall Street.
“I’ve searched the record, and as far as I can tell, during that eight-year period you did not challenge the Bush administration’s handling of the economy, criticize the excessive spending or the rising deficits,” Van Hollen told Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor, at a morning hearing.
“It lifted the yachts, but the rest of the boats ran aground,” Van Hollen said about the former president's economic policies during his opening statement.
Van Hollen noted that dozens of Republicans on Capitol Hill supported the Wall Street bailout in 2008, then opposed the stimulus package and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bills under Obama.
Jeb Bush, who was testifying at a hearing on removing barriers to economic growth, appeared taken aback by Van Hollen’s criticism.
“I didn’t come to criticize anybody, just for the record,” Bush said in his opening statement.
“I’m not used to the 9:00 food fight,” Bush added. “I’m from Florida, where we don’t start that way in life.”
Jeb Bush, who endorsed Mitt Romney earlier this year, has taken some shots at Obama’s economic record, including an April statement criticizing the administration’s record on trade.
“President Obama’s trade inaction and political calculations are part of a broader pattern of economic failures for this president that have resulted in real pain for Floridians and Americans throughout this great country,” the former governor said.
But at Friday’s hearing, he kept it more general, saying that Washington policymakers should concentrate on getting rid of government programs that are ineffective and asserting that the cost of those policies drags down the private sector.
“We know from recent experience that government isn’t good at picking winners and losers in the economy,” Bush said.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Budget Committee chairman, added that both parties had made mistakes in shepherding the economy in the past, but declared that government needed to get out of the way and give Americans more economic freedom.
The Wisconsin Republican also criticized what he called “crony capitalism,” the day after Romney held an event at the closed-down headquarters of the solar energy company Solyndra.
Ryan and other Republicans have labeled the hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-backed loans that Solyndra received before filing for bankruptcy an example of Obama's "crony capitalism."
Van Hollen and other Democrats on Capitol Hill say Republicans are picking their own winners and losers, including oil companies and millionaires.
Van Hollen also said that, while he supports the idea of scrapping government programs that aren’t working, policymakers shouldn’t pull support from the National Institutes of Health because every grant doesn’t lead to a breakthrough.
“Let’s learn the right lessons from what happened in the past,” Van Hollen said.
In 2008, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), now the chamber's Speaker, famously called the Troubled Asset Relief Program a “crap sandwich,” and the proposal was at first rejected by the House before making its way through Congress. Less than half of House Republicans at the time voted for final version of the Wall Street bailout.
At the same time, no House Republicans supported the stimulus package, and only a handful backed the final version of Dodd-Frank.