President Obama’s budget of tax hikes to pay for massive new spending programs is a “trend toward socialism” that will stifle a creative free market, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee said in an interview Monday.
Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican, also criticized the new president for going back on campaign promises to run an open and transparent government, citing Mr. Obama’s use of a presidential “signing statement” on the recent stimulus law unilaterally cutting back protections for federal whistleblowers.
“I’m just telling you a president who said he was going to be the most transparent president, the most open president ought to stick with it,” Mr. Grassley told reporters and editors at The Washington Times. The signing statement was “completely contrary to what he said in the campaign.”
While saying he was open to working with the new president on key agenda items such as health care, the five-term conservative lawmaker directly attacked Mr. Obama on a number of fronts, from his handling of the economic crisis and relations with Congress to taking time to predict the winners of the college basketball tournament live on national television.
“We should just be asking the president to not be a showman, to be on [“Tonight Show host Jay] Leno or other things that detract from what he’s doing, like bracketing the NCAA game. Those are distractions,” he said.
Asked if the Democratic Party should be renamed the “Democratic-Socialist Party” given Mr. Obama’s budget plans, Mr. Grassley said, “It would probably be harmful to rename the party, but it wouldn’t be harmful to say there’s a big trend toward socialism with this budget.”
He said the federal taxes under Mr. Obama’s blueprint would move from 18 percent of the economy — the historic average of the past 40 years — to over 22 percent in 2009, with massive deficits predicted for at least another decade, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office projections.
“Whenever the government does more, there’s less for the private sector, that’s a movement toward socialism,” Mr. Grassley said.
The low-key Iowan grew particularly exercised over Mr. Obama’s March 10 signing statement which came after candidate Barack Obama had severely criticized such statements under President Bush.
Mr. Obama expressed reservations over a whistleblower protection provision that Mr. Grassley has long championed.
Mr. Obama’s reservation came on a “rider” to the stimulus bill that had been routinely included on spending bills for more than a decade.
“I do not interpret this provision to detract from my authority to direct the heads of executive departments to supervise, control and correct employees’ communications with the Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential,” Mr. Obama wrote.
Said Mr. Grassley, “There’s an institutional disease within the executive branch of government under any president that says, ‘We’re going to drag our feet on anything Congress wants to know.’”
He vowed to continue his constitutional oversight role of the executive branch, saying he preferred to wage the fight “battle by battle rather than war by war.”
“But this business of what he said in the signing statement, it’s almost war,” he said.
The senator said he had not received a response from Mr. Obama to a letter he wrote complaining about the whistleblower signing statement.
“We’ve heard nothing,” he said. “I don’t know if he’s backtracking or whether he’s just legitimately so busy with the economy that he doesn’t have time to consider what I have to say.”
Mr. Grassley also revealed he is rallying support in the Senate for a three-year budget spending freeze to rein in the federal deficit and show taxpayers Washington was capable of living within its means in times of economic sacrifice.
“It would be a way of showing the conservatism of our fiscal policy,” he said.
Mr. Grassley also faulted Mr. Obama for overloading the legislative circuits too early in his term, pushing for health care, energy and education reform even as he confronts a deep recession and a banking crisis.
Mr. Grassley contended that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his famous first “100 Days” in 1933 concentrated less on legislative achievements than on restoring confidence in the country’s economic future.