Democrats trying to change the subject


In the first two months of 2009, the Democratic Congress and the White House have spent more money than the combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the response to Hurricane Katrina. After they doled out taxpayer dollars at such a blistering pace, the instinct of many inside the Beltway is to do what’s most convenient: desperately try to change the subject by creating straw men — called “the party of no” — to rally against.

And in a carefully calculated campaign, operatives and allies of the Obama administration are seeking to divert attention toward radio host Rush Limbaugh, and away from a debate about our alternative solutions on the economy and the irresponsible spending binge they are presiding over. This diversionary tactic will not create a single job or help a single family struggling in today’s economic crisis. And that is where our focus should be.

Democratic pollsters began laying the groundwork for this effort last fall. What’s particularly regrettable is that all this is unfolding at a time our nation can least afford it.

President Obama has said that we must change the way Washington operates in order to address the unprecedented challenges of today. I hope that those inside and close to the administration begin heeding his advice, because the change-the-subject campaign they are employing is the oldest trick in Washington’s book. This isn’t about the leadership of political party officials or the influence of radio hosts. It’s about the need for both parties to work together toward real solutions to end this recession and put Americans back to work.

It’s no secret that middle-class families and small businesses across our nation are hurting. Their job security is diminishing, their budgets are tightening, and their 401(k)s and college savings are evaporating. During this recession, they are being forced to make difficult budget decisions; unfortunately, Congress and the administration do not feel the responsibility to do likewise. Instead, the profligate spending we’ve seen over the past two months is simply breathtaking - and it’s exactly why some here in Washington are scrambling to change the subject.

Consider what Washington Democrats have “accomplished” since the beginning of the year: The administration requested $350 billion from the Troubled Assets Relief Program even though neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration has adequately answered questions about where the first $350 billion went and what strategy Treasury officials have developed to get the government out of the private sector. Obama signed “stimulus” legislation that costs twice as much as the House GOP’s alternative bill but that will create only half as many jobs.

The president apparently plans to sign the $410 billion “omnibus” spending bill, even though it is loaded with some 9,000 unscrutinized earmarks and the largest increase in discretionary spending — save for a brief increase after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — since the Carter administration. And the Obama administration has proposed a budget blueprint that increases taxes on every American, to the total tune of $1.4 trillion. Each of these policy proposals is meant to lay the groundwork for a new era of big government — and neither Main Street nor Wall Street likes what it is seeing.

Markets are plunging, businesses are cutting jobs, and families are growing more anxious every day. Moments such as this demand the kind of cooperation and new way of doing business that Obama has promised. Instead, those around him are taking to the airwaves and the pages of our nation’s newspapers to carry out a campaign intended to change the subject and divert attention from what matters most: finding a way to work together to get our economy moving again.

Something is wrong when the discourse in Washington is more focused on a political sideshow than, say, the fact that Congress is attempting to terminate a school-choice program that serves thousands of needy children in the District of Columbia or the effect of a presidential budget that raises taxes on millions of Americans during a recession.

The writer, a Republican congressman from Ohio, is the House minority leader. This column appeared in Thursday’s Washington Post.

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