President Obama's speech in Cleveland today was many things: The official unveiling of new economic proposals, a call for letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire, an attempt to draw a contrast between the Democratic and Republican vision for the economy.
But it was also a direct attack on House Republican Leader John Boehner, who the White House appears to be trying to elevate into its main adversary in the GOP.
Boehnerin Cleveland two weeks ago, where he called for the president to fire his economic team; this morning, the Ohio congressman again the administration. The White House, meanwhile, was not shy in the run-up to the Ohio speech in portraying it as a , possibly in an effort to put a face to its efforts to create a contrast with the GOP.
The president opened his speech by saying the prosperity Americans experienced under Republican leadership was an "illusion" taking place as the economy weakened. He soon took direct aim at Republicans, and specifically Boehner, for refusing to come up with new ideas to set the economy on track.
"My hope was that the crisis would cause everybody, Democrats and Republicans, to pull together and tackle our problems in a practical way," the president said. "But as we all know, things didn't work out that way. Some Republican leaders figured it was smart politics to sit on the sidelines and let Democrats solve the mess."
He said that the GOP has elected to "ride this fear and anger" that many Americans are feeling "all the way to Election Day." He then lit into Boehner:
"A few weeks ago, the Republican leader of the House came here to Cleveland and offered his party's answer to our economic challenges. Now, it would be one thing if he had admitted his party's mistakes during the eight years they were in power, if they had gone off for a whole and meditated and come back and offered a credible new approach to solving our country's problems.That wasn't the last time the president took aim at Boehner: He later lit into the House Republican leader for opposing a permanent extension of a research and development tax credit, as an alternative to tax loopholes that incentivize investment in overseas jobs. On top of that, he suggested that Boehner doesn't think the jobs of teachers and police officers aren't worth saving. He said:
But that's not what happened. There were no new policies from Mr. Boehner. There were no new ideas. There was just the same philosophy that we had already tried for the last decade - the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place: cut more taxes for millionaires and cut more rules for corporations.
Instead of coming together like past generations did to build a better country for our children and grandchildren, their argument is that we should let insurance companies go back to denying care to folks who are sick, or let credit card companies go back to raising rates without any reason. Instead of setting our sights higher, they're asking us to settle for a status quo of stagnant growth, and eroding competitiveness, and a shrinking middle class."
"To most of you, I'll bet [extending the tax credit while closing tax loopholes] is just common sense. But not to Mr. Boehner and his allies. For years, Republicans have fought to keep these corporate loopholes open. In fact, when Mr. Boehner was here in Cleveland he attacked us for closing a few of these loopholes - and using the money to help states like Ohio keep hundreds of thousands of teachers and cops and firefighters on the job. Mr. Boehner dismissed these jobs - teaching our kids, patrolling our streets, rushing into burning buildings - as quote 'government jobs' - jobs that I guess he thought just weren't worth saving.
Later, the president complained that "Mr. Boehner and the Republicans in Congress said no" to investment in infrastructure projects. "Fought them tooth and nail," he added. "Though I should say that didn't stop a lot of them from showing up at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies and trying to take credit. That's always a sight to see."
Then, speaking of the Republican argument that the Bush tax cuts should be extended for high earners, the president said this: "Make no mistake: [Boehner] and his party believe we should also give a permanent tax cut to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. With all the other budgetary pressures we have - with all the Republicans' talk about wanting to shrink the deficit - they would have us borrow $700 billion over the next 10 years to give a tax cut of about $100,000 each to folks who are already millionaires."
And later, speaking on the issue of deficits: "When these same Republicans - including Mr. Boehner - were in charge, the number of earmarks and pet projects went up, not down. These same Republicans turned a record surplus into a record deficit. When I walked in, wrapped in a nice bow, was a $1.3 trillion deficit. Sitting right there on my doorstep. A welcoming present. Just this year, these same Republicans voted against a bipartisan fiscal commission that they themselves had proposed. Once I decided I was for it, they were against it. And when you ask them what programs they'd actually cut, they don't have an answer. That's not fiscal responsibility. That's not a serious plan to govern."
Boehner emailed out this response to the speech: "If the president is serious about finally focusing on jobs, a good start would be taking the advice of his recently departed budget director and freezing all tax rates, coupled with cutting federal spending to where it was before all the bailouts, government takeovers, and 'stimulus' spending sprees." He also pointed to what he is calling a "two-point plan" to help the economy.
But that seemed relatively restrained in light of the fact that according to President Obama, John Boehner is a fiscally irresponsible political hack with no new ideas who doesn't care about teachers, firefighters and cops. It seems safe to assume the next bipartisan meeting at the Oval Office might be a touch awkward.
Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.