Slamming ‘social Darwinism,’ Obama reignites debt clash with GOP

Reigniting his clash with Republicans over how to tame the debt and deficits, President Obama delivered a blistering attack on the House Republican budget Tuesday, calling it “thinly veiled social Darwinism” and a “prescription for decline.”

The Republican budget proposal, Mr. Obama said, would bring draconian cuts to education, transportation, and the social safety net for seniors and the poor as the wealthy receive tax cuts.

And even as Obama derided Reagan-era “trickle-down economics,” he sought to paint the current Republican Party as being to the right of the conservative icon, noting that President Reagan once worked with Democrats to save Social Security.

The $3.5 trillion Republican budget “is a Trojan horse,” Obama said in a lunchtime address to the annual meeting of the Associated Press in Washington. “Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism.”

“It is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who’s willing to work for it, a place where prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class,” Obama continued. “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.”

The president spoke as Republicans headed to the polls Tuesday in Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia for primaries that could effectively seal their party’s nomination for Mitt Romney. Obama mentioned Mr. Romney by name, as he sought to lash the former Massachusetts governor to a radical — and, he hopes, electorally unappealing — image of the Republican Party.

“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 1 of his presidency,” Obama said. “He said that he’s very supportive of this new budget.”

Obama tweaked Romney for calling the budget “marvelous.”

That’s “a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing a budget,” Obama said, chuckling. “It’s a word you don’t often hear generally.”

But aside from that light moment, Obama mostly sought to paint the Republicans darkly, as a party that envisions a country “where a shrinking number of people do exceedingly well while a growing number struggle to get by.”

He then laid out a future of budget cuts that he said would set the country on a path of decline: Nearly 10 million college students would see financial aid cut by an average $1,000 each; 1,600 fewer medical grants; 4,000 fewer scientific research grants; reduced investments in clean energy; cuts in nutritional aid to 2 million mothers and young children.

“That’s just a partial sampling of the consequences of this budget,” he said.

Leading Republicans dismissed Obama’s speech as campaign rhetoric, calling his attacks distortions and partisan pot-shots.

“If the president were serious, he would put forward a plan to deal with our debt crisis and save Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for future generations of seniors without raising taxes on small businesses that are struggling in this economy,” said House Speaker John Boehner in a statement. “Instead, he has chosen to campaign rather than govern, and the debt crisis he is presiding over is only getting worse.”

In his speech, Obama maintained that he had put out a plan — one similar to the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission that he commissioned in 2010, which entails a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction: cuts in discretionary spending, cuts in mandatory spending, and increased revenue.

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