The White House moved into full campaign mode Tuesday with a hard-hitting speech to the nation’s newspaper editors that attacked Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney by name and called the House-passed Republican budget a threat to the nation’s middle class and overall prosperity.
The address was deliberately timed to counter Romney’s likely victories in Wisconsin and Maryland, which will provide the Republican frontrunner with another opportunity to repeat his recent attacks on the Obama administration for what he calls its failed economic policies. Romney in the past week has stopped focusing on his rivals and instead aimed all his rhetorical fire at the president.
Noting the economy was on the mend from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, Obama said the coming election should be about creating economic security for the majority of Americans who are still struggling to find a job, make ends meet, educate their kids and save for retirement. He contrasted his priorities with the budget passed last week by House Republicans, which he said would shred virtually every safety net and support program that aids the middle class and the poor.
“This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class,” the president said. “I can’t remember a time when the choice between competing visions of our future has been so unambiguously clear.”
The president went on to attack Romney by name for the first time in the campaign, tying him to the Ryan budget. It’s a theme that undoubtedly will be repeated many times over the next seven months. “He [Romney]even called it ‘marvelous’ – which is a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing a budget,” the president said to polite laughter from the assembled editors.
“Instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress now have doubled down, and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the  Contract with America look like the New Deal,” he said. The president also called it “a Trojan Horse,” “an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country,” and “thinly veiled social Darwinism.”
Yet in a move that could still cause angst among some in his party and political base, the president also promised to move the nation’s budget toward balance while preserving its middle class safety net.
Beyond the immediate budget politics in Washington, the speech, likely written by the David Axelrod-run campaign operation in Chicago, offered a major preview of the themes the president will offer on the campaign trail and he seeks to counter charges that his administration should be blamed for the sluggish growth that has marred his first three years in office.
ON THE NATIONAL DEBT
“A debt that has grown over the last decade, primarily as a result of two wars, two massive tax cuts, and an unprecedented financial crisis, will have to be paid down. . . As president, I’ve eliminated dozens of programs that weren’t working . . . and put annual domestic spending on a path to become the smallest share of the economy since Dwight Eisenhower held this office.”
ON THE INCOME GAP
“In this country, broad-based prosperity has never trickled down from the success of a wealthy few. It has always come from the success of a strong and growing middle class . . . Research has shown that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.”
“We’re told that Medicaid would simply be handed over to the states [that] can experiment. But here’s the deal the states would be getting. They would have to be running these programs in the face of the largest cut to Medicaid that has ever been proposed—a cut that, according to one nonpartisan group, would take away health care for about 19 million Americans. . . Instead of being enrolled in Medicare when they turn 65, seniors who retire a decade from now would get a voucher . . . If Medicare is more expensive than that private plan, they’ll have to pay more."
“The proponents of this budget will tell us we have to make all these draconian cuts because our deficit is so large; this is an existential crisis, we have to think about future generations. . . That argument might have a shred of credibility were it not for their proposal to also spend $4.6 trillion over the next decade on lower tax rates.”
ON HEALTH CARE REFORM
“There’s a reason why there’s a little bit of confusion in the Republican primary about health care and the individual mandate since it originated as a conservative idea to preserve the private marketplace in health care while still assuring that everybody got covered, in contrast to a single-payer plan. Now, suddenly, this is some socialist overreach.”
ON THE EPA
“Cap and trade was originally proposed by conservatives and Republicans as a market-based solution to solving environmental problems. . . Now you’ve got the other party essentially saying we shouldn’t even be thinking about environmental protection; let’s gut the EPA.”
“These are solvable problems if people of good faith came together and were willing to compromise. The challenge we have right now is that we have on one side, a party that will brook no compromise . . . We had presidential candidates who stood on a stage and were asked, ‘would you accept a budget package, a deficit reduction plan, that involved $10 of cuts for every dollar in revenue increases?’ . . . Not one of them raised their hand.”