WASHINGTON – Republican leaders continued their attacks on President Barack Obama's handling of the economy Tuesday, calling it irresponsible and certain to increase taxes and federal debt.
Responding to Obama's televised speech to a joint session of Congress, top Republicans said the president relies too heavily on spending, and not enough on tax cuts, to try to revive the gasping economy. They said they want to work with Obama, and sometimes blamed congressional Democrats more than him. But their criticisms were sharp and plentiful.
"The way to lead is not to raise taxes and put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who gave the Republican Party's official response. The massive economic stimulus bill recently enacted by Obama and congressional Democrats, Jindal said, will expand the government, "increase our taxes down the line, and saddle future generations with debt."
"It's irresponsible," said Jindal, who is eyeing a presidential bid in 2012 and frequently cited his accomplishments in Louisiana.
The tone of the Republicans' response was in keeping with their nearly unanimous opposition to the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, which was backed by only three Republicans in the Senate and none in the House. Some Democrats and independents think the Republicans are blundering and misreading most Americans' sentiments about the need for massive government action to help the economy.
In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, about three-fourths said Obama was trying to be bipartisan, and almost as many faulted the response of Republican officials, which was seen as politically motivated.
Despite such findings, GOP lawmakers say they believe they will be proven right in the long run.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said Tuesday that Republicans want to help Obama find "responsible solutions to the challenges facing our nation, but thus far congressional leaders in the president's own party have stood in the way."
Boehner, Jindal and other Republicans repeatedly accused Democrats of wanting to raise taxes, but the Obama-backed stimulus package has extensive tax cuts.
Jindal acknowledged that to some degree, Republicans deserved the drubbing they took in the last two national elections.
"You elected Republicans to champion limited government, fiscal discipline, and personal responsibility," he said. "Instead, Republicans went along with earmarks and big government spending in Washington."
Now, he said, "our party is determined to regain your trust."
Still, some GOP criticisms ignored the big deficits that occurred when George W. Bush was president and Republicans controlled the House and Senate.
"Washington shouldn't be spending money that we don't have," House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia said in his response to Obama's speech. He said Republicans will work with Obama, but they will not betray core principles.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was rather conciliatory in his response to Obama's speech. "All Americans were proud eyewitnesses to history as an African-American president addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time," he said.
"We will have our differences" in working together, McConnell said. "Republicans believe the road back to prosperity is paved with greater personal freedom, not bigger government."
Taking advantage of his moment in the national spotlight, Jindal publicized a Web link Tuesday (http://www.bobbyjindal.com/sotu/) allowing respondents to receive early excerpts of his televised response, and to donate to his political organization. Jindal also collected their e-mail and postal addresses, which could prove handy in a presidential race.
Jindal opened his remarks by hailing Obama's racial breakthrough. "Like the president's father, my parents came to this country from a distant land," he said, referring to India.
In what sometimes sounded like a presidential campaign speech, Jindal said Washington should follow examples set by some state governments, including Louisiana's.
"Since I became governor," he said, "we cut more than 250 earmarks from our state budget" and "cut taxes six times, including the largest income tax cut in the history of our state."