Thursday, February 5, 2009

President Obama, fresh off his first Washington apology tour, grew combative Wednesday, asserting that America voted for him, not the other guy, and demanding that lawmakers “put aside politics” — well, Republican lawmakers, anyway.

A day before he headed to a luxury resort to meet behind closed doors with Democrats, the Harvard graduate lectured the less economically astute, ridiculing the Reaganomics Doctrine held dear by Republicans, who prefer tax cuts to new spending to bounce America out of its financial mess.

“Now, in the past few days I’ve heard criticisms of this plan that echo the very same failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis — the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems,” the president said at the White House. “I reject that theory, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change.”

The statement, the first of its kind in public, was reminiscent of what Mr. Obama said in private just days after taking office. In the White House’s Roosevelt Room, he told a Republican senator who opposed an element of the stimulus package that “I won. I will trump you on that.”

Mr. Obama, beaten bloody for weeks over his nominations of high-powered lobbyists and tax scofflaws that have rapidly drained his political capital, is no longer making any pretense of seeking to change the tone of Washington, as he repeatedly vowed to do when campaigning. The politics of mirage continued Wednesday in full force, with mixed signals coming out of the White House, from Capitol Hill, and, of course, from beleaguered Tom Daschle, who saw his nomination to head the Health and Human Services Department scuttled for failure to pay his taxes.

A day after banning corporate executives from earning more than $500,000 a year via taxpayer bailouts, Mr. Obama on Thursday will head to a Democratic retreat that has burned through half a million dollars in taxpayer cash for annual retreats at luxury resorts.

While President Clinton’s first trip as president was to Detroit, where he held a town hall meeting with average Americans to talk about how to fix the economy, and President Bush flew to Fort Stewart, Ga., to visit soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division, Mr. Obama’s first trip aboard Air Force One will take him to a luxury resort in Williamsburg.

“Well, I’d — you know, I’d — Williamsburg is — has a lofty place in our country’s history,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, when asked if there was any special significance to the president’s choice. “I don’t know that there’s any great symbolism in this one in particular,” he added at Wednesday’s briefing off the West Wing.

Mr. Obama will head to Kingsmill Resort and Spa in the historical Virginia city to start a three-day planning session. The resort boasts multiple championship golf courses, a full-service spa and six restaurants, noted the Hill newspaper, which broke the story about the Democratic retreats.

Democrats will ride together to the resort on a chartered Amtrak train at a cost to taxpayers of about $70,000, the Hill reported. Taxpayers will also foot the bill for security helicopters to fly above the train. The caucus will spend thousands: In 2003, for example, they spent $11,200 on food and $6,900 on entertainment, the paper said.

The trip comes after several Democratic lawmakers criticized American International Group Inc. executives for spending nearly $500,000 at a company retreat in California just days after the federal government bailed the company out with $85 billion in taxpayer funds. In addition, Wells Fargo & Co., which received $25 billion in taxpayer bailout money and recently announced a $2.3 billion loss for the last quarter of 2008, canceled its planned 12-night junket to expensive hotels in Las Vegas for events that included a luxurious four-day employee sales conference.

Mr. Gibbs said the Vegas trip “didn’t happen because of the diligent work of many in the reporting of these and the outcry that ensued.” But no one in the briefing room Wednesday asked about the expensive Democratic retreat.

Meanwhile, Mr. Daschle’s politics of mirage emerged as he fades into the shadows from whence he came.

“Make no mistake, tax cheaters cheat us all, and the IRS should enforce our laws to the letter,” he said in 1998 during a debate on a bill reforming the Internal Revenue Service.

Mr. Obama’s nominee to head the HHS said he thought a chauffeured limousine provided by a wealthy Democratic donor was a free ride and simply didn’t know that the limo should have been considered “imputed income.” Even though he paid nearly $140,000 to the IRS, he could not survive the political heat that followed.

Just Tuesday, the president made the rounds on every TV network to apologize for abandoning what he called the highest ethical standards ever enacted in any administration. But living up to that pledge has been trying from the start, and the White House said on Wednesday that it fully expects to fail in the future to meet that threshold.

“I don’t doubt that there are times that we might not live up to those lofty standards,” Mr. Gibbs said, licking his upper lip. “I think that’s safe to say. … He asks us every day to meet them. There are days that we won’t.”

“Are there lessons learned here?” a reporter asked the spokesman Wednesday.

“Well, as I said — I mean, you know, we — the president didn’t think that we were going to come in here and change everything about the way Washington worked in such a short period of time. You can rest assured that we understand that we’ve not yet marked off all of our to-dos.”

Joseph Curl can be reached at

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