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Obama Rebuts Boehner On Economy, Lays Out Democratic Vision

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President Barack Obama Wednesday sought to lay out his vision for the future of the country in an effort to boost Democrats' prospects in the November midterm elections.

Obama based his case in the roots of the reasons he ran for President, opposition to the Republican governing philosophy that resulted in cutting taxes for the wealthy, slashing regulations and inking trade deals that didn't benefit American workers.

"The idea was that if we just had blind faith in the market, if we let corporations play by their own rules, if we left everyone else to fend for themselves, America would grow and America would prosper," Obama said. "For a time, this idea gave us the illusion of prosperity."

He added, "We saw financial firms and CEOs take in record profits and record bonuses. We saw a housing boom that led to new homeowners and new jobs in construction. Consumers bought more condos and bigger cars and better TVs."

But despite that appearance of success and affluence, Obama said, the broader economy was actually weakening, plagued by slow job growth, stagnant wages and increasing costs for everything from tuition to health care.

"Meanwhile, a failure to pay for two wars and two tax cuts for the wealthy helped turn a record surplus into a record deficit," he said. "I ran for President because I believed that this kind of economy was unsustainable - for the middle-class and for the future of our nation."

He added, "I ran because I had a different idea about how America was built."

Obama said his vision was for an America built on the values of self-reliance and responsibility, that rewards responsibility and is built on the promise of economic opportunity and upward mobility.

"Much has happened since that election," he said. "The flawed policies and economic weaknesses of the previous decade culminated in a financial crisis and the worst recession of our lifetimes."

He added, "My hope was that the crisis would cause everybody, Democrats and Republicans, to pull together and tackle our problems in a practical way. But as we all know, things didn't work out that way."

Obama chided Republican leaders in Congress for failing to work with him to stop the financial meltdown and for opposing his efforts to prevent the recession from becoming a depression.

"We have done that. The economy is growing again. The financial markets have stabilized. The private sector has created jobs for the last eight months in a row," he said. "And there are roughly three million Americans who are working today because of the economic plan we put in place."

But Obama acknowledged that the pace of progress was "painfully slow," leaving many Americans frustrated, angry and anxious - and open to GOP efforts to ride that fear and anger to the ballot box.

Obama also sought to directly rebut House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who recently spelled out the GOP vision for the future of the American economy.

"It would be one thing if he had admitted his party's mistakes during the eight years that they were in power … and offered a credible new approach to solving our country's problems," Obama said of Boehner. "But that's not what happened."

He added, "There were no new policies from Mr. Boehner. 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: cut more taxes for millionaires and cut more rules for corporations."

That emphasized, Obama said, the stark contrast between the two parties, with Democrats seeking to move forward and Republicans sliding backward.

"I've never believed that government has all the answers to our problems. I've never believed that government's role is to create jobs or prosperity," he said. "I believe it's the private sector that must be the main engine of our recovery."

He added, "But in the words of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, I also believe that government should do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves.

Obama said that government should make the long-term investments in the country's future in areas such as education, research and infrastructure while also ensuring that corporations live up to their responsibilities and providing a hand up for the middle class.

"That's what we Democrats believe in - a vibrant free market, but one that works for everybody," he said. "That's our vision for a stronger economy and a growing middle-class."

He added, "That's the difference between what we and Republicans in Congress are offering the American people right now."

Obama also took Boehner and Congressional Republicans to task for seeking to extend all of the tax cuts that were passed on a temporary basis in 2001 and 2003, which, Obama noted, were designed to expire at the end of this year in an effort to mask the long-term budgetary consequences.

"Under the tax plan passed by the last administration, taxes are scheduled to go up substantially next year for everybody. By the way this was by design," he said. "I believe we ought to make the tax cuts for the middle class permanent. These families are the ones who saw their wages and incomes flatline over the last decade - you deserve a break."

He added, "But the Republican leader of the House doesn't want to stop there. … With all the other budgetary pressures we have - with all the Republicans' talk about wanting to shrink the deficit - they would have us borrow $700 billion over the next ten years to give a tax cut of about $100,000 each to folks who are already millionaires."

Obama emphasized that it wasn't his goal to punish those who were better off.

"It's because we can't afford the $700 billion price tag," Obama said, clarifying his reasoning for not extending the cuts for those making more than $250,000 per year.

He added, "For those who claim that our approach would somehow be bad for growth and bad for small businesses, let me remind you that with those tax rates in place, this country created 22 million jobs, and raised incomes, and had the largest surplus in our history."

Obama also rejected what he called the moralizing of the GOP on government spending and the federal debt while acknowledging the legitimate concerns that many Americans hold about the growing long-term deficits.

"Let's look at the facts. When these same Republicans - including Mr. Boehner - were in charge, the number of earmarks and pet projects went up, not down," he said. "These same Republicans turned a record surplus into a record deficit."

He added, "When you ask them what programs they'd actually cut, they don't have an answer. That's not fiscal responsibility. That's not a serious plan to govern."

Obama said that he refused to cut back on the investments in the future that Democrats have made along with the additional measures he's proposing.

"That's because economic growth is the single best way to bring down the deficit - and we need these investments to grow," he said.

In an implied criticism of the lack of vision among Republican leaders today, Obama recalled how it was Republicans who were responsible for many important investments in the nation, from Abraham Lincoln who established land-grant colleges and the transcontinental railroad and Theodore Roosevelt's trust busting to Dwight Eisenhower's establishment of the Interstate Highway System and Ronald Reagan who worked with Democrats to strengthen Social Security.

"These were serious leaders for serious times. They were great politicians, but they didn't spend all their time playing games or scoring points," he said. "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."

He added, "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."

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