House Speaker John Boehner today took on President Obama directly, criticizing the president for "shrinking from his responsibility to lead" on the economy and suggesting the president lacks "any courage to help tackle these problems."
"The president's been AWOL," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters in the Capitol at his weekly news conference today. "The president checked out last Labor Day. He spent the last six months campaigning from one end of the country to the other instead of working with members of both political parties here in Washington to address the serious challenges that our country faces."
Challenging Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner's comments last weekend that the Obama administration's economic policies have been "remarkably effective," Boehner ticked off a number of economic statistics that he was not impressed by.
"I don't think there's anything remarkably effective about 38 straight months of unemployment higher than eight percent, the longest such period since the Great Depression," Boehner said. "I don't think there's anything remarkably effective about adding $5 trillion of debt on the backs of our kids and our grandkids. And there's nothing remarkably effective about doubling gas prices and blocking more American energy production that could begin to address those rising gas prices."
Rep. Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means committee, contended that Boehner is "playing politics with the truth," with Levin recalling that the president was "deeply involved" during discussions last year over extending the payroll tax credit and unemployment insurance.
"The president has been leading. That's the long and short of it. I don't know where the speaker's been," Levin, D-Mich., said. "They're very much involved. I don't get it. You can criticize someone for the positions they take but don't say that they're absent."
Rep. John Conyers, the top Democrat on the Judiciary committee, rebutted the speaker's implication that the president lacked courage to fix the economy, but he conceded that the blame game is a natural product of political campaigns.
"The president for a while there was getting some pushback from progressives in his own party because he was too forthcoming," Conyers, D-Mich., said. "Of course he was getting zero [credit] for his efforts, but now I think more recently he's realized it's more a rhetorical game that we have to indulge."
At today's presser, Boehner turned up the volume, amplifying his usual disdain for the administration.
Boehner dismissed a suggestion from one reporter that the Republican House majority shares some of the blame for dysfunction as Washington struggles to produce results.
"I've told the president over a year ago if there were ideas that he and I could agree on that were in the best interests of our country, I'd be there to support him," he said. "If the president won't lead, Republicans will, and we are."
The House is poised to vote this afternoon on another 90-day extension of the highway bill, which would serve as the lower chamber's legislative vehicle to initiate bi-partisan conference negotiations with the Senate in order to work towards a long-term agreement on the bill.
"The fact that the president has threatened to veto the Keystone pipeline just shows how out of touch he is. The American people want us to build the Keystone pipeline. They want those jobs created now," Boehner said.
"Americans are working harder than ever to create new jobs and opportunities despite the obstacles that Washington continues to throw at them," he said. "Just think about what could be achieved if the president were serious about working with members here in Congress on both sides of the aisle to address the serious challenges that face our country."
Thursday the House is scheduled to vote on a 20 percent small business tax cut, which the speaker said would impact 20 million American small businesses. Boehner challenged Obama to work in good faith with both political parties to help improve the economy and he called on the president to pressure Senate Democrats to act on more House-passed economic initiatives.
"Maybe he doesn't like this 20 percent tax cut that would help 20 million small businesses. What are his ideas?" Boehner asked. "When there's no conversation, [and] there's no engagement, all we're left with is moving our own ideas through the regular order, through the regular process here in Congress."