President Obama delivered a blistering attack on the House Republican budget, GOP presidential candidates, and the very soul of the modern Republican party Tuesday, at one point saying that since President Ronald Reagan raised taxes and increases spending to reduce the deficit, the 40th president and conservative icon "could not get through a Republican primary today."
The president called the budget proposal primarily crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., the chair of the Budget Committee, "a Trojan horse," and "thinly veiled social Darwinism," painting an apocalyptic vision of what it might mean to the public if enacted.
Addressing a convention of the Associated Press, the president said the Ryan budget is "disguised as deficit reduction plans" but "really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.
"It is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who's willing to work for it," he said, speaking sternly, "a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that's built to last - education and training, research and development, our infrastructure - it is a prescription for decline."
Mr. Obama said the Ryan budget "is now the party's governing platform. This is what they're running on."
Ryan is today campaigning in his home state of Wisconsin with GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney; Republicans are voting today in presidential primaries in the Badger State, Maryland, and the District of Columbia; this is at least the third time the president has made an effort to steal the spotlight from the GOP on a primary day, having delivered a fiery address to a convention of the United Auto Workers on the same February day as the Michigan and Arizona primaries, and having held his first press conference of the year on March 6, Super Tuesday.
In Waukesha, Wisconsin, earlier this morning, Ryan offered a pre-buttal of the president's speech, describing it as 'big-government populism… He'll try to characterize those people who do not agree with where he's taking America as if we're some kind of villain in a cartoon, like the cartoons we watched on Saturday morning growing up."
"We don't want a president to divide us," Ryan said. "We don't want a president who's there to distract us. We want a president that's going to get the American dream back on track."
Addressing his likely general election opponent by name for the first time at an official event, the president said "one of my potential opponents, Governor Romney, has said that he hoped a similar version of this plan from last year would be introduced as a bill on day one of his presidency. He said that he's very supportive of this new budget. And he even called it 'marvelous,' which is a word you don't often hear when it comes to describing a budget."
To laughter, the president chuckled and added, "It's a word you don't often hear generally."
(To be fair to that word, last October, at the dedication of the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Obama praised "Dr. King's marvelous oratory.")
In one of the other few light moments in the address, the president noted that "we're already in the beginning months of another long, lively election year. There will be gaffes and minor controversies. There'll be hot mics and Etch A Sketch moments."
Though this was billed as an official presidential event, Mr. Obama used today's speech to lay out what he saw as the defining issue of the pending election: "What, if anything, can we do to restore a sense of security for people who are willing to work hard and act responsibly in this country? Can we succeed as a country where a shrinking number of people do exceedingly well while a growing number struggle to get by, or are we better off when everyone gets a fair shot and everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same rules?" Arguing that "this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class," the president said "I can't remember a time when the choice between competing visions of our future has been so unambiguously clear." "The Republicans running Congress right now have doubled down and proposed a budget so far to the right, it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal," he said, sarcastically referring to "renowned liberal Newt Gingrich" who "first called the original version of the budget 'radical' and said that it would contribute to 'right-wing social engineering.'"
Acknowledging that the Republicans "don't specify exactly the cuts that they would make" in their budget, the president nonetheless took some license and went through a list of ways the American people would be impacted, claiming:
* "The year after next, nearly 10 million college students would see their financial aid cut by an average of more than $1,000 each.
* "There would be 1,600 fewer medical grants, research grants for things like Alzheimer's and cancer and AIDS…
* "If this budget becomes law and the cuts were applied evenly, starting in 2014 over 200,000 children would lose their chance to get an early education in the Head Start program.
* "Two million mothers and young children would be cut from a program that gives them access to healthy food.
* "There would be 4,500 fewer federal grants at the Department of Justice and the FBI to combat violent crime, financial crime and help secure our borders. Hundreds of national parks would be forced to close for part or all of the year.
* "We wouldn't have the capacity to enforce the laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink or the food that we eat."
And on and on, like that.
"You can anticipate Republicans may say, 'Well, we'll avoid some of these cuts,'" the president predicted. "But they can only avoid some of these cuts if they cut even deeper in other areas. This is math."
He insisted: "this is not conjecture. I am not exaggerating. These are facts….And these are just the cuts that would happen the year after next. If this budget became law, by the middle of the century, funding for the kinds of things I just mentioned would have to be cut by about 95 percent. Let me repeat that. Those categories I just mentioned we would have to cut by 95 percent. As a practical matter, the federal budget would basically amount to whatever's left of entitlements, defense spending and interest on the national debt, period."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, disputed that these were facts, assailing the president for "resort(ing) to distortions and partisan pot-shots, and recommit(ing) himself to policies that have made our country's debt crisis worse" instead of "reaching across the aisle to enact the changes needed to restore America's prosperity."
White House officials told reporters that today's speech was a reprisal of the speech he gave in Kansas last December in which he first began to sound out populist themes and cast himself as the defender of the middle class in anticipation of this November's general election.
-Jake Tapper and Mary Bruce, with additional reporting from Steve Portnoy