Still Fear vs. Hope? Obama Attacks John Boehner, GOP’s Economic Vision

From Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller :

In a starkly political speech President Obama assailed House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-OH, by name eight times today, attacking the Republicans economic philosophy as flawed and weak, attempting to define the choice that people have in November’s election.

In rhetoric very similar to the comparisons he’d draw between the two parties in the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama framed the election for voters.

“It’s still fear versus hope; the past versus the future,” Obama said from Cleveland, Ohio today, “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.”

The president defined the Republican economic philosophy as, “Cut taxes, especially for millionaires and billionaires. Cut regulations for special interests. Cut trade deals even if they didn’t benefit our workers. Cut back on investments in our people and our future.”

The president came to Cleveland today to draw a stark comparison between his economic agenda and that of the Republicans – as House Minority Leader John Boehner just over two weeks ago outlined the Republican economic agenda in a speech in the same city.

“There were no new policies from Mr. Boehner,” Obama said of his speech, “There were no new ideas. 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.”

The economic policies in Mr. Obama’s speech today - infrastructure investments, expanding, simplifying and making permanent the R&D tax credit, and allowing companies to fully deduct qualified capital investments through the end of 2011 – are new initiatives that the president will be talking about from now until election day, the White House says. But his speech today was not to elaborate on the details of the yet-to-be-passed proposals, but yet to compare the economic values of the two parties.

“Mr. Boehner and the Republicans in Congress said no to these projects,” Obama said noting that some of the ideas have traditionally had bipartition support in the past, “that too is what this election is about.”

One of the many policy disagreements centers on the Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year. President Obama wants to extend them for those who earn under $200,000 a year, while Republicans want to also extend them for the top two tax brackets. Making a middle-class appeal today, Mr. Obama said directly to the people in the audience “you deserve some help,” saying that he believes they ought to make tax cuts for the middle class permanent.

“So let me be clear to Mr. Boehner and everyone else: we should not hold middle class tax cuts hostage any longer. We are ready, this week, to give tax cuts to every American making $250,000 or less,” Obama said, “Now 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. God Bless them. It’s because we can’t afford the $700 billion price tag.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in a statement pushed back against Mr. Obama’s speech.

“If the President wanted to have an immediate impact on hiring, he could begin by changing his mind and announcing today his opposition to the job-killing tax hikes on small businesses,” McConnell said, “ America’s job creators have already been hit with higher health care costs and related taxes, new bureaucracy and a financial regulation bill. Americans want jobs, not more government, more debt and more taxes. Let’s start today with a declarative statement against tax hikes on the small businesses that are critical to expand and create jobs.”

The president said that it’s the “easiest” thing for the Republican part to do in a political campaign – to “ride this fear and anger all the way to Election Day,” without offering up a serious plan to govern, he said. Drawing up historical comparisons, the president praised many Republicans, many of whom are dead – Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan --calling them serious leaders for serious times – suggesting the Republican party of today is not holding up those traditions.

“They were great politicians, but they didn’t spend all their time playing games or scoring points,” Obama said of the Republicans of yesteryear, “They didn’t always prey on people’s fears and anxieties. They made mistakes, but they did what they thought was in the best interest of their country and its people. That’s what the American people expect of us today – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. That’s the debate they deserve. That’s the leadership we owe them.”

The president also talked about his and First Lady Michelle Obama’s humble roots – striking a personal tone to economic struggles they too have had in the past, at a time when many Americans are struggling themselves.

“My grandfather marched off to Europe in World War II and my grandmother worked in factories on the home front. I had a single mom who put herself through school, and would wake before dawn to make sure I got a decent education….Yes, our families believed in the American values of self-reliance and individual responsibility, and they instilled those values in their children. But they also believed in a country that rewards responsibility.”

Today’s economic speech in Cleveland follows President Obama’s economic address in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Monday and a daytime press conference on Friday at the White House.

-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

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