The Washington Post

Boehner: Obama picking fake fights

House speaker John Boehner (R-Oio) participates in a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on April 4, 2011 in Washington. (Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)

House Speaker John A. Boehner scolded President Obama on Sunday for politicizing issues upon which Democrats and Republicans agree, including the need to prevent a hike in interest rates on federal student loans.

“The president is getting some very bad advice from his campaign team, because he’s diminishing the presidency by picking fake fights, going after straw men every day,” Boehner said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Boehner (R-Ohio) told CNN host Candy Crowley that he and the president have a good relationship, but he provided no evidence of that, instead excoriating Obama for his recent speeches attacking the GOP’s position on student loans.

“The point I’ve been trying to make here in the last couple of weeks is that the president’s bigger than this,” Boehner said. He cast his criticism as constructive: “Somebody needs to help him out, so I thought I would.”

The interview was broadcast the morning after Obama, without naming Boehner, took a humorous jab at Congress for failing to pass legislation.

“Congress and I have certainly had our differences; yet, I’ve tried to be civil, to not take any cheap shots. And that’s why I want to especially thank all the members who took a break from their exhausting schedule of not passing any laws to be here tonight,” Obama said at the White House correspondents dinner.

The latest flash point between Boehner and Obama is the federal student-loan program. Republicans and Democrats agree that legislation must be passed to prevent the interest rates from doubling this summer. They haven’t agreed on how to pay for it.

House Democrats have proposed ending subsidies to oil and gas companies, and Senate Democrats want to end a tax shelter for some wealthy small business owners. Republicans want to take the money out of a preventive-care fund established by Obama’s health-care overhaul. Boehner denied that the GOP proposal was a political move meant to undermine the health-care law. He argued that the White House had marked the same program for a budget cut.

In recent days, Boehner has used harsh words to describe Obama, at one point saying he has never seen the presidency “smaller.”

“It’s clear that the president’s economic policies have failed. And, as a result, he’s turned to the politics of envy and division,” Boehner said in the Sunday interview.

Obama spoke about student loans last week at the University of Iowa, saying he and his wife, Michelle, spent many years paying off their loans.

“We only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago,” Obama said. “Think about that. I’m the president of the United States” — the audience laughed — “it was only about eight years ago that we finished paying off our student loans.”

He told the students that on July 1, interest rates on student loans will double, which could amount to $1,000 a year in extra debt for the average student. He asked the students how many of them could afford another $1,000 a year.

“The Republicans who run the House of Representatives have not yet said whether or not they’ll stop your rates from doubling,” Obama said.

In the CNN interview, Boehner responded that Congress will find a way to prevent the rate hike. “Democrats and Republicans, for months, have been working together, trying to figure out a way to resolve the problem.”

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."

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