Tea Party Republicans betrayed US: Obama

By Raf Sanchez, Peter Foster

President Obama says the shutdown worsened the deficit. Photo / AP
President Obama says the shutdown worsened the deficit. Photo / AP

President Barack Obama launched a ferocious political attack on hardline Tea Party Republicans yesterday, accusing them of betraying the ideals of America by forcing a 16-day government shutdown that cost the economy at least US$24 billion ($28.4 billion).

Hours after signing the legislation that ended Washington's latest budget stand-off, Obama said Republicans who had "pushed for the shutdown" had succeeded only in creating a spectacle of poor governance that had tarnished America's credibility in the world.

"It's encouraged our enemies, it's emboldened our competitors, and it's depressed our friends, who look to us for steady leadership," he said.

Obama said the crisis had caused "completely unnecessary" damage to the economy, claiming it had slowed growth, seen households cut back on their spending and worsened the deficit.

"Let's be clear. There are no winners here," he said. "The American people are completely fed up with Washington."

Speaking a day after Democrat leaders in the Senate had called for an end to "pointing fingers and blame", Obama pointed the finger squarely at Tea Party Republicans who had refused to raise the debt ceiling if he did not roll back parts of his signature healthcare reforms. "You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election," he scolded. "Push to change it. But don't break it.

"Don't break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That's not being faithful to what this country's about."

Obama made the broadside as Republicans and Democrats were preparing to sit down for the first budget conference in three years to try to hammer out a longer-term deal to fix America's finances.

Expectations of a breakthrough remain low, but the results of the talks could be crucial in avoiding another stand-off when the new government funding authority expires on January 15 and the debt ceiling comes up for renewal on February 7.

Urging Congress to begin the hard work of regaining the trust of the American people, Obama also challenged calls from fiscally hawkish Republicans for further deep cuts to discretionary public spending in order to rein in America's US$16.7 trillion national debt.

"We shouldn't approach this process of creating a budget as an ideological exercise, just cutting for the sake of cutting," he said, adding he remained open to a "grand bargain" to tackle the long-term issue of making the American welfare system affordable.

"The issue's not growth versus fiscal responsibility," he added. "We need both. We need a budget that deals with the issues that most Americans are focused on, creating more good jobs that pay better wages."

As Obama basked in the glow of his political victory, leading Republicans were locked in recriminations as conservatives and their more moderate colleagues traded blame over the political costs of a shutdown that saw Republican standing plummeting in the polls.

Ted Cruz, the Texas senator and Tea Party darling who led the shutdown movement, accused Senate Republicans of acting like an "air force bombing our own troops" for not supporting House Republicans in their demands for concessions on ObamaCare.

John McCain, a moderate senator, told CNN his party needed to "stop this foolish childishness" which was damaging Republicans across the country.

"The President won," McCain said. "I give him credit, he won, but he should've negotiated more, earlier and we could've prevented some of this pain."

However, despite the scale of the rebellion by rank-and-file House members, the Republican speaker of the House John Boehner seems likely to hold on to his job.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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