MARY KNOX MERRILL/THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR/FILE
House Minority Leader John Boehner thinks the US economic recession is still growing worse, said he agreed with most of Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday to a joint session of Congress, and offered faint praise for the Republican party’s official response to the President.
The Ohio Republican said “I would tend to agree with” economists quoted in the Wall Street Journal who say there is an “adverse feedback loop” where the recession and the financial crisis are feeding on each other, in ways that worsen both.
Problems feeding on each other
“We had a problem in the credit markets. We had a problem with toxic assets. And as the recession grows, it frankly will make more assets toxic, compounding the problem that our banks and financial institutions have,” Boehner said at a Monitor-sponsored lunch with reporters.
Boehner was complimentary about the speech President Obama made in the House chamber Tuesday evening. “The President, I thought, made a compelling case last night that we can overcome the challenges our country faces especially when it comes to the economy,” Boehner said.
Obama the conservative
The top House Republican added, “with few exceptions it is a speech I could have given. Probably not as well. It was a very conservative speech in terms if you want to get into ideology. There were very few parts of this that I disagreed with. But actions speak louder than words. The President made a pretty compelling case we ought to get rid of wasteful programs, we ought to get rid of a lot of these wasteful earmarks and says there were no earmarks in the stimulus bill…The fact is there were earmarks there.”
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, was assigned to give the Republican response to Obama’s address. His television performance was widely panned. "I thought the message in his speech was very good. Clearly anyone in that situation is going to find themselves in a very difficult situation following the President," said Boehner. "The President is a very good communicator. But I thought the message contained was very good."
Boehner repeated calls for bipartisanship. “While we want to work with the President, at the end of the day the House leadership needs to open their arms,” he said.
Communicators not legislators
He was blunt in assessing the role Republicans can play in the legislative process. I have been trying to get my Republican colleagues to understand that we are not in the legislative business any more. We don’t have enough numbers and obviously [Democrats] are not interested in allowing us to participate. If we are going to do our job in terms of being the party that we will call better solutions…the only way we can affect this process is to communicate better with the American people,” Boehner said.
When his party disagrees with the President, “you will see us spending more time communicating because that is what we can do,” Boehner said.
Hitting Democrats on wasteful spending in the recently passed stimulus bill will be one theme of Republican communications, Boehner said. “ We will have an opportunity to talk about this probably every week for the next 18 months. As this money begins to roll out, some of it is not going to meet the straight face test. It is just not going to happen, and trust me, you will know about it. This is the problem when you allow the government to make all these decisions,” Boehner argued.
Republicans' tough sell
Selling the Republicans’ message of smaller government can be challenging, Boehner admitted. “We have a tougher job than our friends across the aisle. They’ve been offering Americans a free lunch for the last 80 years, rather successfully,” he said at the wide-ranging session with reporters. “Those of us that believe in a smaller, more accountable government, we have a tougher time making our principles relevant to the American people. But it’s our challenge, and we’ve got to do it.”