By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2010; 2:30 PM
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) fired back at the White House Wednesday, arguing that "they're the ones who are out of touch" with the American people while defending his critique of the financial regulatory reform bill as excessive regulation.
Led by President Obama, Democrats pounced on the Republican leader 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."
That brought a quick rebuke from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday, and Obama was expected to elevate the dispute on Wednesday by seizing on Boehner's words during remarks in Racine, Wis.
"If the Republican leader is that out of touch with the struggles facing the American people, he should come here to Racine and ask people if they think the financial crisis was an ant . . . These Americans don't believe the financial crisis was an ant," Obama said in prepared remarks that were released by the White House.
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 is more interested in protecting banks and big corporations rather than struggling families.
Boehner was unapologetic about his position during an interview in his Capitol office a few hours before the president was to speak.
"They're the ones who are out of touch with what the American people expect of Washington," he said of the administration. "The American people want us to deal with the economy and jobs. 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 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.
Boehner said his reference to an ant "was not a judgment of the financial crisis. It was how to fix it. Clearly there were holes in our regulatory process and we could have fixed those holes but that's not what this bill does. This bill goes way beyond all of that and puts the federal government in a huge role in terms of how our whole financial system's going to work in the future. That's what I was talking about."
Boehner said he worries that the economy could undergo a double dip recession, saying he fears debt refinancing in Europe later this year could bring "more shocks to the system." But he firmly rejected the administration's course in dealing with the crisis.
"I'm not a Keynesian economist," he said. "I just think that all the spending that they've pumped out there has done virtually nothing."
Coincidentally, House Republicans released a new report that Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said shows that the administration's stimulus package "has been an even bigger failure than most Americans realize."
During the interview, Boehner challenged the president's reading of the public mood, arguing that administration policies, rather than saving the economy, threaten the economic and personal freedoms that have been critical to making the country "an opportunity machine" for more than two centuries.
"This is what America is saying. I hear it every place I go," he said. "And you look at the discontent out there. There's anger. There's frustration that Washington's not listening. But if you listen closely and listen long enough, there's a lot of fear out there that the country that people grew up in is not going to be the country their kids and grandkids grow up in."
Boehner also said Republicans have "a great opportunity" to win control of the House in November but described it as "an uphill climb" in part because Democrats have a financial advantage that could be decisive in some close races.