Obama’s 14-minute speech at a toy manufacturing company here amounted to a verbal poke in the eye, warning that taxes will go up without a plan — and likening Boehner and other Republicans to one of the most reviled figures of the holiday season.
“That’s sort of like the lump of coal you get for Christmas,” Obama said at K’nex, the maker of Tinkertoys. “That’s a Scrooge Christmas.”
Boehner (R-Ohio) fired back less than an hour later on Capitol Hill, saying House Republicans had reached a “stalemate” with the White House. “It’s not a serious proposal,” he said of Obama’s plan.
The increasingly antagonistic tone has stoked fears in Washington and on Wall Street that an inability to compromise, or even communicate, could lead the country over the fiscal cliff, a series of automatic tax increases and spending cuts that are to take effect in January. Economists have warned that the measures could jolt the economy back toward recession.
Any political negotiation involves a good deal of bluster, particularly in Washington. Such discussions often involve a period of theatrical posturing, even as staffers continue to hammer out specifics behind closed doors. Both sides also have reason to play to their respective constituencies, even if some level of compromise is inevitable.
White House advisers point to the president’s conversations with Boehner — including a 28-minute phone call Wednesday — as evidence that they are still on speaking terms and that Obama is not trying to bypass Congress.
But Obama’s trip to Pennsylvania signaled that the administration is fully committed to a much tougher and more aggressive approach in dealing with congressional Republicans on the eve of a second term. The president’s advisers believe he has no choice but to play hardball with the GOP after the gridlock of the past two years, and they are confident that Obama holds the upper hand with the public, given his solid election victory and the strong support found in polls for higher taxes on the richest Americans.
Obama, who generally avoids schmoozing even his closest allies, invited Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-Pa.) to accompany him on Air Force One. He visited a decidedly purple political county, where several Republican House members might be susceptible to public pressure to get behind Obama’s proposals. And he was touring a company whose chief executive said he supports Obama’s tax plan even though it would raise federal rates on the factory.
Obama playfully suggested that he would be keeping score once he was back at the White House.