Obama attacks GOP over Boehner's remarks on financial overhaul bill

By Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz
Washington Post staff writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2010; 9:22 PM

RACINE, WIS. -- President Obama launched a broad attack against Republican lawmakers on Wednesday, accusing them of being out of touch with ordinary Americans and sympathetic to oil interests as he sought to capitalize on recent remarks that many in the Democratic Party view as potentially costly political gaffes.

Obama took the rare step of singling out House Republican leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) for comments he made to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review earlier in the week, when he likened the pending financial legislation to "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon."

"He can't be that out of touch with the struggles of American families," Obama told an audience during a town hall meeting here in a city with an extraordinarily high unemployment rate. "And if he is, he has to come here to Racine, and ask people if they think the financial crisis was an ant."

Boehner, in an interview, fired back at the White House, saying that "they're the ones who are out of touch" while defending his critique of the legislation.

"The American people want us to deal with the economy and jobs," he said. "And what have they dealt with? They've dealt with health care. They've dealt with cap and trade. And then they've gone overboard with the financial regulatory bill. Growing the size of government, taking more from the American people at a time when Americans want them to focus in on the economy."

The rhetorical volleys helped frame the debate that will dominate the fall elections. Boehner and the Republicans claim that Obama has unleashed a torrent of government spending and regulation that threatens the economy and the personal freedoms of Americans. The president and his Democratic allies argue that Republican indifference could have turned the deep recession into a depression and that the GOP now is more interested in protecting banks and big corporations rather than struggling families.

In addition to Boehner, Obama took on Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), accusing him of sympathizing with BP during the ongoing oil spill. "The top Republican on the energy committee even had the nerve to apologize to BP," Obama said. "Apologize to BP!"

Obama acknowledged that Barton had subsequently taken the apology back, but added: "He meant it."

Campaigning for the midterms will accelerate after Labor Day, but both sides are already testing their arguments. Democrats are invoking memories of the Bush era, and Obama on Wednesday declared that Republican economic ideas had already been tried -- and failed.

"We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future. We can go backward, or we can keep moving forward," Obama said.

"We know what their ideas are," the president said. "We know where they led us."

Republicans are ratcheting up a theme that has gained steam since the passage of health care: that Obama is implementing unwanted change, and doing so too fast, resulting in a massive expansion of the federal government.

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