President Obama on Wednesday previewed the rhetorical case he’ll make against Republicans this summer and fall in the lead up to the November mid-term elections, using the GOP’s opposition to his new health law to argue that they want to take the country backwards.
“We can’t go back. We’ve got to move forward,” said Obama who repeated this theme throughout his roughly 30-minute speech.
Obama, in a speech at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, defended his record on the economy – trying to balance optimism at growing productivity with empathy and continued high unemployment rates – and lashed the GOP for not supporting his policies.
“A good deal of the other party’s opposition to our agenda has also been rooted in their sincere and fundamental belief about government. It’s a belief that government has little or no role to play in helping this nation meet our collective challenges,” Obama said.
“It’s an agenda that basically offers two answers to every problem we face: more tax breaks for the wealthy and fewer rules for corporations.”
Obama said that while the GOP message to Americans is that they are on their own, his party believes in providing a “basic safety net.” Many conservatives, of course, believe Obama’s agenda is to provide a safety net that is far more expansive and encompassing of most Americans, rather than basic.
The president’s speech drew scathing responses from Republicans in and out of government.
“The President diminishes the Office of the President when he resorts to straw man arguments that willfully mischaracterize the views of others,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican. “All of the President’s talk of post-partisanship, reaching out, and finding common ground reminds us that the country deserves better than his hyper-partisan speech today.”
Karl Rove, a former top White House adviser to President George W. Bush, said it was a “slashing partisan” address.
And Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Committee Chairman and senior Bush adviser, called it “astonishingly partisan.”
“I guess Obama figures the only hope to turn around his plummeting poll numbers is launching partisan screeds, but he seems to just get smaller and smaller by the day,” Gillespie said. “He’d be better off trying to stop oil from spewing into the Gulf than spewing political bile into the media.”
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, used the opportunity to talk again about his YouCut program, which has begun to cause some heartburn for Democratic leaders.
“The same old politics that the President has been prone to engage in – like castigating and mocking those who disagree with his policies – are not solving America’s biggest problems,” Cantor said.
Obama touched briefly on the U.S. government’s national debt, which recently passed the $13 trillion mark, and the annual deficit between spending and revenues which is this year around $1.4 trillion.
“Meeting this challenge will require some very difficult decisions,” Obama said, referring to the fiscal commission he created earlier this year to study options for how to address the problem.
Obama said he “strongly” agrees with Republicans that some government programs will have to be cut.
“What I don’t agree with is the notion that we should also sacrifice critical investments in our people and our future,” he said.
The president also used the oil spill in the Gulf to call for energy legislation to be passed in Congress.
He acknowledged that there is not currently enough support in the Senate to pass the energy bill being sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent.
“The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months,” Obama said.