WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans took the offensive Tuesday and cast President Barack Obama as the culprit for the economy’s persistent frailty, hoping to shift the focus away from his State of the Union address’ theme of economic fairness.
As they awaited the president’s election season speech to the nation Tuesday night, Republicans in the Capitol and on the campaign trail said three years of Obama policies of higher spending, bigger government and tax increases have left the economy stuck in a ditch.
“If the president wants someone to blame for this economy, he should start with himself,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “The fact is, any CEO in America with a record like this after three years on the job would be graciously shown the door.”
White House officials argue that the economy has resumed growing and generating new jobs on Obama’s watch, though growth has been generally listless and the jobless rate remains at a high 8.5 percent.
One of Obama’s themes will be economic fairness, including protecting the middle class and making sure the wealthy pay an equitable share of taxes. Republicans seemed determined to blunt that message and prevent the president from making it the top issue of this year’s presidential and congressional elections.
“This election is going to be a referendum on the president’s economic policies,” which have worsened the economy, said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “The politics of envy, the politics of dividing our country is not what America is all about.”
Boehner also said nearly 30 House-passed bills aimed at helping the economy have stalled in the Democratic-run Senate, most of them rolling back or blocking environmental, workplace and other regulations. He said he hoped Obama “will extend somewhat of an olive branch” to work with Republicans on boosting the economy.
Poised to give the GOP’s formal, televised response to Obama was Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who flirted with running for his party’s presidential nomination before deciding against it last May.
The first White House budget chief under President George W. Bush, Daniels has portrayed himself as a foe of budget deficits. He has described Obama’s fiscal policies as “catastrophic.”
Budgets are non-binding annual blueprints for federal tax and spending policy whose details are frequently ignored. They can also be hard to approve if they address or ignore difficult issues, so leaders sometimes avoid votes on them so vulnerable lawmakers seeking re-election can escape taking a controversial stance.
Obama was delivering his State of the Union address during a rowdy battle for the GOP presidential nomination that has ended up playing directly into Obama’s theme of economic fairness.
That fight has called attention to the wealth of one of the top contenders, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and the low — but legal — effective federal income tax rate of around 15 percent that the multi-millionaire has paid in the past two years. Romney, who is in Florida campaigned for that state’s Jan. 31 primary, released his tax documents for that period on Tuesday.
“The president’s agenda sounds less like “built to last” and more like doomed to fail,” Romney said in remarks prepared for delivery Tuesday in Tampa, Fla. “What he’s proposing is more of the same: more taxes, more spending, and more regulation.”
Romney’s chief rival so far, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said in a written statement that the top question about Obama’s speech was whether he “will show a willingness to put aside the extremist ideology of the far left and call for a new set of policies that could lead to dramatic private sector job creation and economic growth.”
Republicans criticized Obama for putting off, so far, construction of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would run from western Canada to Texas’ Gulf Coast. Supporters say it would create thousands of jobs, while critics say such claims are exaggerated and would cause pollution.
The GOP also sought to use the spotlight on Obama’s speech to score points against congressional Democrats, saying the Senate has not approved a federal budget for 1,000 days.
“Unlike Democrats, House Republicans are fighting to strengthen our economy and allow small businesses to create jobs for hard working Americans,” the chairman of the House GOP’s campaign arm, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said in an email to supporters.