- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Using his strongest political rhetoric yet, President Obama said Wednesday that Republicans are banking on the calculation that “if I fail, they win,” and he told Congress to make a clean break with the Bush-era tax policies by letting the tax cuts for the wealthiest expire.

In a stump-style speech in Cleveland, Mr. Obama blasted the GOP for sitting “on the sidelines” while he and congressional Democrats have pushed to pump money into the economy and to clean up what he said were the excesses of the Bush administration that led to the economic downturn.

Ahead of November’s midterm elections, Mr. Obama directly took on House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who in his own speech in Cleveland late last month challenged Mr. Obama to join a bipartisan effort to cut spending and extend all the Bush-era tax cuts.

“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,” the president said.

He has proposed three major steps he said would help boost jobs: Pouring more taxpayer funds into road and rail infrastructure projects, making the research-and-development tax credit permanent and speeding up tax write-offs for firms when they purchase equipment.

Republicans, led by Mr. Boehner, outlined their own proposal Wednesday: Continue all Bush tax cuts, including those for the wealthiest Americans, and return spending to 2008 levels, which Mr. Boehner said would save nearly $100 billion in the next fiscal year.

“If the president is serious about finally focusing on jobs, a good start would be taking the advice of his recently departed budget director and freezing all tax rates, coupled with cutting federal spending to where it was before all the bailouts, government takeovers and ‘stimulus’ spending sprees,” he said.

The Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of the year. Mr. Obama and most Democrats back an extension of those tax cuts only for families earning less than $250,000 a year and individuals earning less than $200,000 a year.

Republicans said they want to give businesses and consumers certainty and that an expiration of the tax cuts would hurt small businesses in particular.

Democrats, though, have sought to expropriate Republican concerns about the deficit in their defense of allowing the tax cuts for wealthier Americans to expire. They say an extension would add $700 billion to the federal tab over the next decade.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton jumped into the fray Wednesday, labeling the U.S. deficit, projected to weigh in at about $1.4 trillion this year, a national security threat. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, she warned that mounting debt undermines the nation’s “capacity to act in our own interest.”

Mr. Obama’s infrastructure proposal faces a precarious future as lawmakers in both parties are wary of additional spending. Indeed, one of Mr. Obama’s key allies, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, has announced that he would oppose the measure. He said infrastructure projects can be funded through last year’s $814 billion Recovery Act.

The president has not received any support from Senate Republicans, who hold enough votes to block action.

With congressional elections less than two months out, Mr. Obama is seeking to bolster his party’s chances and improve his own sagging approval ratings. He is telling voters that they have a choice of either continuing the policies of President George W. Bush or his own policies, which he said have subdued the recession, although “progress has been painfully slow.”

Polls show voters increasingly disapprove of Mr. Obama’s record on the economy and don’t see results from the $814 billion stimulus.

The president is also facing the headwind of an unemployment rate that ticked up in August to 9.6 percent.

In Cleveland, Mr. Obama drew a stark line between Democrats and Republicans, and said the political battles on Capitol Hill seem to center on battling him, not improving the country.

“They’re making the same calculation they made just before the inauguration: If I fail, they win,” he said. “Well, they might think this will get them where they need to go in November, but it won’t get our country where it needs to go in the long run.”

• Kara Rowland can be reached at krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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