WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has resorted to “extremism” with stifling, anti-growth policies and has tried dividing Americans, not uniting them, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said Tuesday in the formal Republican response to the president’s State of the Union address.
Eight months after deciding not pursue a bid for his party’s presidential nomination, Daniels used his nationally televised speech to lash out at Obama and cast the GOP as compassionate and eager to unchain the country’s economic potential.
He took particular aim at Obama’s efforts in recent months to raise taxes on the rich and castigate them for not contributing their fair share to the nation’s burdens. He and other Republicans were hoping to both blunt and shift the focus away from Obama’s theme of fairness, which includes protecting the middle class and making sure the rich pay an equitable share of taxes.
“No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant effort to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others,” Daniels said, according to excerpts of his remarks released before he and Obama spoke. “As in previous moments of national danger, we Americans are all in the same boat.”
Daniels is a rarity in the GOP these days — a uniting and widely respected figure, contrasting with the divisiveness emanating from the contest for the presidential nomination being waged among former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and others.
Daniels, President George W. Bush’s first budget chief and a two-term Indiana governor, portrays himself as an ardent foe of budget deficits, though critics note he served during the abrupt shift from fleeting federal surpluses to massive deficits early in Bush’s term.
Obama’s address, and Daniels’ speech, come at the dawn of a presidential and congressional election year in which the defining issues are the faltering economy and weak job market and the parties’ clashing prescriptions for restoring both. Obama and congressional Democrats have focused on the more populist pathway of financing federal initiatives by taxing millionaires, while Republicans preach the virtues of less regulation and smaller government.
Obama was ready to describe his vision of attaining “an economy built to last.” Led by Daniels, Republicans were firing back that it was their party that understood the best way to trigger economic growth was to get the government out of the way.
“The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly sane pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy,” Daniels said.
Obama has halted, for now, work on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from western Canada to Texas’ Gulf Coast. Republicans say the project would create thousands of jobs, a claim opponents say is overstated. The administration has also pursued policies aimed at reducing pollution and global warming.
Daniels said Republicans prefer “a passionate pro-growth approach that breaks all ties and calls all close ones in favor of private sector jobs that restore opportunity for all and generate the public revenues to pay our bills.”
In a riff on Obama’s own theme, Daniels said, “As Republicans our first concern is for those waiting tonight to begin or resume climb up life’s ladder. We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have nots. We must always be a nation of haves and soon-to-haves.”
Even before Obama spoke, Republicans in the Capitol and on the campaign trail accused him of three years of higher spending, bigger government and tax increases that have left the economy stuck in a ditch.
“This election is going to be a referendum on the president’s economic policies,” which have worsened the economy, said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “The politics of envy, the politics of dividing our country is not what America is all about.”
To underscore Obama’s decision on Keystone, Boehner invited three officials from companies he said would be hurt by the pipeline’s rejection to watch the speech in the House chamber, along with a pro-pipeline legislator from Nebraska, through which the project would pass.
“If the president wants someone to blame for this economy, he should start with himself,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “The fact is, any CEO in America with a record like this after three years on the job would be graciously shown the door.”
Obama was delivering his address during a rowdy battle for the GOP presidential nomination that has ended up providing ammunition for Obama’s theme of fairness.
That fight has called attention to the wealth of one of the top contenders, Romney, and the low — but legal — effective federal income tax rate of around 15 percent that the multimillionaire has paid in the past two years. Romney, in Florida campaigning for that state’s Jan. 31 primary, released his tax documents for the two-year period on Tuesday.
“The president’s agenda sounds less like ‘built to last’ and more like doomed to fail,” Romney said in Tampa, Fla. “What he’s proposing is more of the same: more taxes, more spending, and more regulation.”
Romney’s chief rival so far, Gingrich, said in a written statement that the top question about Obama’s speech was whether he “will show a willingness to put aside the extremist ideology of the far left and call for a new set of policies that could lead to dramatic private sector job creation and economic growth.”
The Republican National Committee was airing a television commercial in three states and Washington, D.C., that shows Obama discussing the faltering economy in 2009, saying, “If I don’t have this done in three years, then this is going to be a one-term proposition,” a reference to his presidency.