The Republicans vying to challenge President Barack Obama next year are universally panning his budget proposal as political gimmickry and another example of his inability to lead.
The likely candidates lined up Wednesday against Obama's budget proposal, which would cut the federal deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years by eliminating health care fraud, raising taxes on the wealthy and paring defense spending. Republicans cast it as a hollow response to spending outline proposed earlier by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
"It was as if Ryan was the president and (Obama) was a desperate challenger," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Associated Press.
Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, wrote a budget that would cut spending by $5.8 trillion over 10 years. Ryan's plan would reduce tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, and eliminate various tax loopholes. But it would also expose its champions to criticism they were willing to undercut health care for the poor and elderly _ rhetoric Obama himself employed during a speech Wednesday in Washington.
That's why many of the likely 2012 candidates sought to cast Obama as a follower, a partisan and a man unfit to lead a nation combating stubbornly high employment.
"I just can't help but wonder, why wasn't (Obama) leading with this problem during his State of the Union speech?" former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said in a message to supporters. "Why wasn't it part of the budget he presented to Congress on Feb. 14? It seems rather apparent that the Republicans' proposal led by Congressman Ryan has forced the president's hand."
Obama leveled a blistering attack on Republicans' spending priorities, laying down markers for the 2012 presidential campaign. He said Ryan's proposal would slash health care coverage to 50 million Americans, including grandparents needing nursing home care, children with autism and kids "with disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we'd be telling to fend for themselves."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called Obama's plan "too little, too late."
"Instead of supporting spending cuts that lead to real deficit reduction and true reform of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the president dug deep into his liberal playbook for solutions highlighted by higher taxes," Romney said in a statement.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty called Obama's speech "nothing more than window dressing."
And Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, on his way to meet with New Hampshire voters for the first time this year, posted a brief comment to his Twitter account: "President Obama doesn't get it: The fear of higher taxes tomorrow hurts job creation today."
The GOP criticism of the incumbent Democratic president was expected: Obama is an easy target who helps rile up grassroots leaders and donors. And it is a chance for the expected candidates to introduce themselves to voters who largely do not know the still-forming field.
"President Obama ... continues to operate with a left-wing worldview that will hurt seniors, kill jobs, raise gas prices and increase our crushing debt," Gingrich wrote on Facebook.
"America needs an honest conversation about saving Medicaid and Medicare by providing citizens with more choices, better care and more control at lower costs; not emotional demagoguery designed to create a climate of fear and inaction."