Minority leader Boehner: Fire Obama's economic team, extend tax cuts

By Paul Kane and Michael D. Shear
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; 12:21 PM

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CLEVELAND -- House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called Tuesday for the mass firing of the Obama administration's economic team, including Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and White House adviser Larry Summers, arguing that November's midterm elections are shaping up as a referendum on sustained unemployment across the nation and saying the "writing is on the wall."

Boehner said President Obama's team lacks "real-world, hands-on experience" in creating jobs that are needed for a full economic recovery. The Republican lawmaker cited reports that some senior aides complained of "exhaustion," including the recently departed budget chief Peter Orszag.

(44: Boehner not the only one who wants Geithner out)

"President Obama should ask for - and accept - the resignations of the remaining members of his economic team, starting with Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council," Boehner said in the morning speech to business leaders at the City Club of Cleveland. The mass dismissal, he added, would be "no substitute for a referendum on the president's job-killing agenda. That question will be put before the American people in due time. But we do not have the luxury of waiting months for the president to pick scapegoats for his failing 'stimulus' policies."

Vice President Biden lashed back at Boehner, called his "so-called" economic plan nothing but a list of what Republicans are against and devoid of innovative new ideas that can help move the country forward.

In a sarcastic tone, Biden thanked Boehner for the suggestion that the president fire his top economic advisers.

"Very constructive advice and we thank the leader for that," Biden said.

With President Obama on vacation Martha's Vineyard, the White House largely left it to Biden to respond to the speech. He accused Boehner and the GOP of wanting to take the country back to failed policies of the past.

"Mr. Boehner is nostalgic for those good old days, but Americans are not...We've seen this movie before Mr. Boehner," Biden said. "We've seen it before. And we know how it ends."

Calls for Cabinet officials to be fired is nothing new for the party out of power -- during the Bush administration many Democrats called for the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a demand that was not met until Democrats swept the 2006 midterms.

Bill Burton, the White House deputy press secretary, said he had reviewed Boehner's speech and found "what was most surprising was his full-throated defense of the indefensible," a reference to the congressman's proposal to give tax breaks to companies that Burton said "ship jobs overseas."

He rejected Boehner's call for Obama to dismiss Geithner and Summers, saying the "irony of this is that Boehner would fire the people who made the tough decisions, who did the hard work to get the economy going again."

In his speech, Boehner sought to personalize mounting concerns among voters about Obama's handling of the economic recovery - arguing that Obama's advisers unfairly highlight brief signs of marginal improvement to suggest a coming surge in job creation.

"The American people are asking, 'where are the jobs?' and all the president's economic team has to offer are promises of 'green shoots' that never seem to grow," Boehner said. "The worse things get, the more they circle the wagons and defend the indefensible." After the speech, he held a question-and-answer session with business leaders in this economically distressed Rust Belt city.

Democratic National Committee officials organized a conference call Monday to critique what they consider a lack of new proposals from the GOP and unveil a Web ad rehashing attack lines against the minority leader, including a 15-year-old story about handing out campaign checks from tobacco companies to Republicans on the House floor.

"It was John Boehner and Republicans who invented the ways of Washington," the narrator says in the ad.

House Republicans do not plan to unveil a detailed policy agenda until late September, and Boehner's speech did not expand the GOP's existing economic proposals in any significant way. The speech was part of a bus tour of battleground House districts, focusing on manufacturing-centric regions such as Indiana, Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

Boehner told the City Club officials that the key to sparking job growth is extending the tax cuts implemented by then-President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003. Republicans want to extend the tax cuts across the board, while Democrats have argued for extensions to all but the top 2 percent of income earners. Both proposals would result in sharp increases in deficit spending -- more than $3 trillion under the Democratic plan and $3.7 trillion for the GOP plan -- but both sides argue that some extension of tax cuts would provide an additional stimulus to spur consumer purchasing power.

Boehner needs a net gain of 39 or more Republican seats to seize control of the House and fulfill his self-proclaimed campaign of "Boehner for Speaker." No issue will be more key to that effort than the economy. In Boehner's home state of Ohio -- a critical battleground in the past two presidential campaigns -- unemployment has remained higher than the national average, at 10.3 percent in July. Neighboring Indiana is barely better, at 10.2 percent.

Vulnerable House Democrats from Ohio have embraced Obama's stimulus legislation as something that has, at the least, helped mitigate the damage to the region. Rep. Zack Space (D), elected in 2006, last week hailed a $66 million grant from the Recovery Act to expand high-speed access to the Internet in his eastern Ohio district. Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio) trumpeted a $1.6 million grant to a local port authority for a project that would ultimately create 500 jobs in his district. Republicans, however, say Obama's Recovery Act has been a failure.

Boehner said that extending the tax cuts for all income brackets would help small business owners, who have been the toughest hit since the financial collapse of 2008. "Raising taxes on families and small businesses during a recession is a recipe for disaster - both for our economy and for the deficit. Period. End of story," he said. "That's why President Obama should work with Republicans to stop all of these job-killing tax hikes."

Staff writer Scott Wilson also contributed to this report. kanep@washpost.com

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