WASHINGTON -- President Obama branded the House Republican budget "a prescription for decline" Tuesday and used it as a proxy to frame his general election confrontation with Mitt Romney, just as the GOP frontrunner appeared poised to tighten his grip on the party’s nomination.
"It's a Trojan Horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plan, it's really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It's nothing but thinly-veiled Social Darwinism," the president said in a speech at the Associated Press luncheon in Washington.
Signaling a shift of the campaign, Obama addressed Romney by name, noting he called the plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin "marvelous."
"Which is a word you don't often hear when it comes to describing a budget," Obama teased. "It's a word you don't often hear generally."
TRANSCRIPT: Read Obama's full remarks
White House officials have called this an important speech that would frame the competing visions of the parties. It picked up on several themes the president has been pushing in recent campaign speeches, but zeroed in more closely on the budget proposal and outlined a broader defense of government.
Obama sought to portray the Republican Party as having increasingly strayed from the mainstream, and even their own prior moorings, listing the policies of GOP predecessors like Eisenhower's Interstate Highway system, or Nixon creating the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Ryan plan, Obama said, makes the 1994 "Contract with America look like the New Deal."
"What leaders in both parties have traditionally understood is that these investments aren't part of some scheme to redistribute wealth from one group to another; they are expressions of the fact that we are one nation. These investments benefit us all," he said.
The House budget, passed last week in a vote largely along party lines, would cut taxes for the wealthy, revamp Medicare and slash federal spending. The Ryan-led effort, the party argues, is the only one that seriously tackles the nation's $11-trillion public debt load.
Obama conceded that difficult choices had to be made to right the nation's fiscal choice, and said he's made some already in his own "detailed plan" to tackle entitlement spending. But he would not ask the middle class to bear the burden for the GOP's latest "trickle down" economic vision, he said.
"I can't remember a time when the choice between competing visions of our future has been so unambiguously clear," he said.
Romney was campaigning with Ryan just before the president's remarks, as he has much of the past weekend since the congressman endorsed his campaign.
The Romney campaign offered a preemptive response to the president's remarks, saying that the last think he is "qualified to lecture on is responsible federal spending.
Ryan himself called Obama's speech "as revealing as it is disappointing."
"History will not be kind to a President who, when it came time to confront our generation’s defining challenge, chose to duck and run," he said in a statement.
Romney is scheduled to speak Wednesday at another luncheon that's part of the larger Newspaper Association of America gathering in Washington.
Today, expected victories in the Wisconsin, Maryland and District of Columbia primaries would put him on a seemingly irreversible path toward clinching the party's nomination, with three weeks before the next round of contests in territory that is favorable to him.
Original source: Obama uses GOP 'Trojan horse' budget to frame general election case