Congressional Republicans have blasted President Barack Obama’s speech on America’s fiscal future as inadequate, misleading, and divisive. On Capitol Hill, reaction to the presidential address broke along predictable party lines.
About the only praise from Republicans came in a jeering tone: applauding the president for at least entering the budget fray with a broad outline of his fiscal priorities. As for the substance of the president’s speech, Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan clearly was not impressed.
"What we got was a speech that was excessively partisan, dramatically inaccurate, and hopelessly inadequate in addressing our country’s pressing fiscal challenges," he said.
Last week, Ryan unveiled a Republican plan to cut the $1.5 trillion federal deficit by dramatically slashing domestic spending. He was quick to respond to President Obama’s criticism that the plan would devastate U.S. education, innovation and progress, and harm America’s most-vulnerable citizens.
"Exploiting people’s emotions of fear, envy, and anxiety is not hope. It’s not change. It’s partisanship. We don’t need partisanship. We don’t need demagoguery. We need solutions," he said.
In his speech, President Obama called for shared sacrifice to confront America’s national debt, which stands at $14 trillion. While Republicans have ruled out any tax hikes to help bridge the budget gap, Mr. Obama said the wealthy must be called on to contribute to a long-term fiscal solution.
That brought a derisive response from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. "I don’t think Americans have been sitting at home thinking, ‘You know what this debate over government spending has been missing? A proposal for a giant tax increase’," he said.
Democrats countered by accusing Republicans of fiscal hypocrisy, saying their anti-government, anti-tax rhetoric undermines any claim of budgetary responsibility. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa said, if Republicans were serious about cutting the deficit, they would not insist on extending tax cuts for the wealthy or seek to repeal health care reform.
"Republicans have played the Washington stage for all its worth over the last few weeks, making great solemn speeches to the balconies and to the audiences about the deficit and the debt. The Republicans are proposing to reduce the deficit by increasing the deficit. This is Alice in Wonderland [fairy tale] kind of thinking," he said.
President Obama speech focused on America’s long term fiscal outlook. Thursday, Congress will have a more immediate task: voting on last week’s budget agreement to fund the government through September. The deal, reached as a partial government shutdown loomed, cuts domestic spending more than most Democrats would like, but less than most Republicans had sought.
Even if the spending bill is approved, Capitol Hill is bracing for what promises to be furious debate over whether to raise the limit on how much money the federal government can borrow. Unless the debt ceiling is raised, the United States risks defaulting on its massive national debt, much of which is owed to foreign governments.