Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had some sharp criticism Tuesday morning for President Obama’s jobs package – and the No. 2 Democrat in the House, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), in turn had some strong words for McConnell.
The common thread in both of their responses? Each side accused the other of playing politics instead of working in earnest to jump-start the economy.
In a scathing address on the Senate floor, McConnell charged that “what the president’s proposed so far is not serious, and it’s not a jobs plan.”
“The specifics we got yesterday (on the Obama proposal) only reinforce the impression that this was largely a political exercise,” McConnell said. “For one, they undermine the president’s claim that it’s a bipartisan proposal -- because much of what he’s proposing has already been rejected on a bipartisan basis. The half-trillion-dollar tax hike the White House proposed yesterday will not only face a tough road in Congress among Republicans, but from Democrats too.”
The $447 billion plan sent by the White House to Congress on Monday would be paid for through a mix of capping tax deductions for higher earners, closing loopholes that benefit oil and gas companies and eliminating benefits for corporate jet owners – all proposals that the White House and congressional Democrats have backed in previous efforts to boost the economy.
While House Republican leaders have struck a bipartisan note on the jobs package and have emphasized that there are parts of it that they could support, McConnell has emerged as the proposal’s sharpest critic on Capitol Hill. In his remarks Tuesday, he said that Republicans remain strongly opposed to any measure that would increase taxes and cast the jobs proposal as a second stimulus plan that would do little to create jobs.
“The president knows raising taxes is the last thing you want to do to spur job creation,” McConnell said. “He’s said so himself. Yet that’s basically all he’s proposing here: temporary stimulus to be paid for later by permanent tax hikes, so that when the dust clears, and the economy is no better off than it was after the first stimulus, folks find themselves with an even bigger tax bill than today.”
Asked about McConnell’s swift condemnation of the jobs proposal, Hoyer countered Tuesday afternoon that the Kentucky Republican’s motives were rooted in politics, not policy.
“One should not be shocked that Senator McConnell said that he didn’t like what President Obama suggested when his principal objective in life is to defeat President Obama next year,” Hoyer said in a reference to McConnell’s remarks late last year that Republicans’ top priority in 2012 should be to defeat Obama.
“What is serious is the challenge that confronts us,” Hoyer said. “If politics is the motivating factor in the minds of the members of the Senate and the House, America will not be well-served. That’s what the president said in his speech, that’s what I believe. It is a time to rise above politics for the purpose of getting our country on the right track.”
The exchange, which comes five days after Obama unveiled his jobs plan before a joint session of Congress and on the same day that the bipartisan debt supercommittee holds its second public hearing, is the latest sign that the White House’s proposal is likely to face a bumpy road on Capitol Hill.
House Republican leaders have said that committees are preparing to examine the legislation in detail and that they are awaiting the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the plan’s budgetary impact. But in the hours since Obama sent details to Congress of how he intends to pay for the plan, congressional Republicans have expressed opposition to the proposed changes in the tax code.
“As a former small businessman myself, I can tell you that we’ve got a little different approach to creating jobs than our friends across the aisle,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters Tuesday morning. “When you look at what we saw in the president’s pay-fors yesterday, we see permanent tax increases put into effect in order to pay for temporary spending. I just don’t think that’s going to help our economy the way it could.”
Hoyer said Tuesday that he believed there was some wiggle room among Republicans when it comes to taxes.
“We’re not going to move forward if both sides are stuck in cement,” Hoyer said. “I’ll tell you privately that many, many Republicans that I have spoke to understand you can’t get there from here without revenue. And as I’ve said, you can’t get there from here without looking at entitlements.”
He also said that while House Democratic leaders oppose any short-term cuts to entitlement programs, they are open to broader changes.
“The leader and I have been very clear that we want to make sure that present benefit checks are not adversely affected, but that does not mean that over the long term, either revenues or entitlements can remain stagnant,” he said. “So, you’re absolutely right: if one side says, ‘We’re not going to cooperate; we’re not going to move,’ then that’s something that I believe will be decided by the American people in 2012. I frankly think the American people need to elect people who are going to come to Washington to solve problems, not just simply stand on the soapbox and make political debating points.”