Democratic Vice President Joe Biden and Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor used separate Memorial Day weekend radio talks to offer sharply differing views of the U.S. economy and economic policy.
The economy continues to be a central concern for voters at a time when the national unemployment rate is 9 percent. Earlier this month, the Gallup Organization reported that three in four Americans cite some type of economic issue as the “most important problem” facing the country. That is the highest level of mentions of the economy in two years, Gallup says.
Filling in for President Obama who is traveling in Europe, Biden’s radio address highlighted the auto industry’s resurgence and credited the administration’s bailout plan for the positive result.
“We faced an auto industry on the brink of extinction,” Biden said. “Because of what we did, the auto industry is rising again. Manufacturing is coming back. And our economy is recovering and gaining traction.”
Last week, Chrysler announced it was repaying $5.9 billion in U.S. loans and $1.7 billion in loans from the governments of Canada and Ontario. General Motors said it would run three shifts at its Detroit Hamtramck plant for the first time in its 26-year history.
Cantor offers a very different view
Cantor’s radio message offered a very different view of the state of the economy and of the Obama administration policy.
“Democrat-controlled Washington enacted the nearly trillion dollar stimulus program which drove up our debt and failed to get people back to work,” he said. As for current conditions, Cantor said, “Now, as the summer of 2011 approaches, far too many of our family members, neighbors, and friends are still out of work.”
Republicans in the House last week unveiled “A Plan for America’s Job Creators.” Key elements include cutting the maximum tax rate to 25 percent for businesses and individuals, spurring domestic energy production, and passing pending trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama.
The plan’s roll out allowed Republicans to change their message from a focus on the budget plan drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, which included a controversial proposal to have Medicare become a voucher-like program for citizens now under age 55. The Medicare proposal was a key factor in the upset in Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District. In a solidly Republican district, Democrat, Kathy Hochul defeated her Republican opponent Jane Corwin.
Political importance of auto industry turnaround
Democrats will continue to use the auto industry’s turnaround as a political weapon when Obama visits a Chrysler plan in Toledo next Friday. In his weekend radio talk, Biden pointedly noted that “many people thought the President should just let GM and Chrysler go under.” He added, “They didn’t think the automobile industry was essential to America’s future.”
The Democratic National Committee released a video last week highlighting the anti-bailout positions of former Massachusetts Governor Romney and other GOP presidential contenders. It opens with a November 2008 New York Times op-ed from Romney with the headline, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” It shows Romney in a TV interview saying, “If you write a check, they are going out of business.” The DNC video also features former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty criticizing Obama’s auto industry bailout.
In response, Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant told the Associated Press that “the federal government is out of control.” He added, “President Obama is kidding himself if he thinks his policies have strengthened America’s economy.”
Both Biden’s and Cantor’s Memorial weekend radio messages did contain the common theme of support for the nation’s service men and women. The vice president asked listeners to “reach out to those families who have someone deployed, in your community. Let them know you know. Let them know you know the sacrifice they’re making. Engage in — as my wife would say — a single act of kindness.”
Cantor spoke of the “brave Americans who gave their lives in service to our country.”
“It is their sacrifice that has kept America free and strong,” he said. “Let us pay them tribute by renewing our resolve to promote lasting peace and liberty across the globe.”