WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Republican in the House of Representatives called on Tuesday for President Barack Obama to fire his economic team in a campaign-style speech meant to focus voters on the weak American economy.
House Republican leader John Boehner said Obama should begin clearing house by replacing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House economic adviser Larry Summers.
“It’s time to put grown-ups in charge. It’s time for people willing to accept responsibility,” Boehner told a civic group in Cleveland.
Boehner’s call for a “fresh start” on the economy comes 10 weeks before November 2 elections expected to see Republicans slash Democrats’ big majorities in the House and Senate, largely because of the near double-digit jobless rate.
If Republicans take the House, Boehner is in line to become its speaker, which would make him the chamber’s presiding officer and in charge of setting its agenda.
Boehner has been a leading critic of Obama’s programs, including his overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system, reform of the rules governing the financial industry, and what Republicans’ denounce as his failed $812 billion economic stimulus plan designed to create jobs and boost investment.
That message could resonate with voters, who list unemployment and huge U.S. deficits among other financial issues as their top concerns heading into November’s congressional elections, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday.
“President Obama should ask for — and accept — the resignations of the remaining members of his economic team, starting with Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council,” Boehner said.
“We do not have the luxury of waiting months for the president to pick scapegoats for his failing ‘stimulus’ policies,” Boehner said.
“We’ve tried 19 months of government-as-community- organizer,” he said, reprising Republican criticism from the 2008 presidential election of Obama’s lack of executive experience. “It hasn’t worked.”
Vice President Joe Biden and two top House Democrats, Chris Van Hollen and Sander Levin, rejected Boehner’s call for resignations. They accused him of recklessly seeking an extension of expiring tax cuts for the rich and a rollback on federal stimulus programs.
“Overall, the Boehner plan is another flashback to (Republican President George W.) Bush economic policies that got us into this mess in the first place,” Van Hollen told reporters in a conference call.
Levin, on the call with Van Hollen, said, “Instead of shouting for the resignations of somebody, they (Republicans) should ... try to help us pass (jobs-creation) legislation. They’ve been a blockade.”
While Obama was certain to dismiss Boehner’s call to replace his top economic advisers as election-year posturing, his team has been seen as a political liability.
Obama and his advisers have been criticized for failing to reduce the jobless rate of 9.5 percent, which they have tried to blame on Bush.
Obama and fellow Democrats insist the jobless rate would be even higher if it wasn’t for their actions, including passage last year of the stimulus plan to promote jobs and investment.
Boehner used his speech before Cleveland’s City Club to again hammer Obama on the economy and renew his call for extension of tax cuts set to expire at the end of this year.
“Unless Congress acts, virtually every American will see their taxes go up on January 1, 2011,” said Boehner.
The Senate next month is to consider what, if any, tax cuts should be extended. The thorniest issue involves taxes for the top income classes — families earning at least $250,000 a year. Obama and most Democrats want to let those expire.
Boehner said: “President Obama has stated he wants to stop some tax hikes, and not others, once again putting the government in the position of picking winners and losers and pitting taxpayer against taxpayer.”
Democrats counter that Republicans haven’t put forward an alternative other than renewing tax cuts and generally cutting spending.
“After all this buildup and hype, all we know is what John Boehner and his Republican colleagues are against,” Biden said. “I don’t know what they’re for that is going to change our economic circumstance.”
Boehner said Republicans will release a plan next month.
“This won’t be just some document handed down by Washington know-it-alls pushing the same-old, same-old,” Boehner said. “We are building this agenda from the ground up by listening to the American people.”
Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria, Donna Smith and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Kristin Roberts and Jerry Norton