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House Republican leader, Democrats trade attacks on economy

Responding to Rep. John Boehner's strong criticism of Obama's team and its policies, Vice President Joe Biden points to the GOP's role in the recession.

August 25, 2010|By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington —

The Republican leader who hopes to become the next speaker of the House criticized White House economic policies Tuesday in a speech that was met with a coordinated attack from Democrats that resembled the rapid response perfected during Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) called for firing the Treasury secretary and repealing parts of the healthcare law, giving shape to a party agenda as Republicans try to take over the House this fall.

In response, Democrats unleashed Vice President Joe Biden for a rebuttal that cast Boehner's priorities as a return to the George W. Bush administration policies that led to the economic crisis, and that showed Democrats were unwilling to let Republican attacks go unanswered.

Both parties are trying to gain support for their economic plans as national unemployment remains locked at 9.5% and companies are slow to hire workers.

In his speech at the City Club of Cleveland, Boehner called on President Obama to extend the expiring Bush administration tax breaks, including those for American families making more than $250,000 annually. The president opposes renewing those tax breaks.

"The same Washington politicians who have spent the last 18 months borrowing and spending our economy into the ground are now fretting over whether we can afford the 'cost' of stopping job-killing tax hikes," Boehner said.

Boehner, the House minority leader, is increasingly positioning himself to oust Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) if Republicans win enough seats to become the majority party.

"It's time to put grown-ups in charge," Boehner said.

Democrats hit back even before the GOP leader delivered his speech, releasing a video reminding voters of a mid-1990s episode in which Boehner, while on the House floor, handed out checks from the tobacco lobby to a few lawmakers. Boehner has since said the action was a misstep.

Democrats also sent an e-mail soliciting $5 donations to a "Stop Boehner" fund to keep the House in Democratic control.

In Biden's response, the vice president said: "For eight years before we arrived in the West Wing, Mr. Boehner and his party ran this economy and the middle class into the ground. We've seen this movie before, Mr. Boehner."

Congressional Democrats piled on, saying the Republican leader should have used his time Tuesday to push Republican senators to help pass a stalled small-business bill when Congress returns in September.

Boehner's speech did not lay out a blueprint for governing; Republicans say that will come next month. Instead, the 10-term Ohio lawmaker listed steps he said Obama should take, including firing Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and White House economic advisor Lawrence H. Summers.

"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.

With millions of jobs lost, the White House has said the recession was much deeper than was understood when Obama came to office. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report Tuesday showing that as many as 3.3 million people were employed in 2010 because of the recovery act. But the CBO said the stimulus would cost $814 billion over a decade — $27 billion more than projected when the legislation passed Congress.

Peter Nicholas in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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