WASHINGTON — US Republicans on Thursday denounced President Barack Obama’s handling of a budget feud in an angry, all-out assault that saw one of them acidly urge him to take a powerful anti-anxiety drug.
“Maybe if he’d just take a Valium and calm down and come on down to talk to us, why, it might be helpful,” Republican Senator Pat Roberts said at a press conference with several colleagues to express outrage at the White House.
Another lawmaker, known for ringing denunciations of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said Obama’s sharp criticisms of Republicans had begun to sound like the rantings of “a left-wing strongman.”
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, widely touted as a possible vice presidential prospect, told the National Review Online that he was “shocked” by the tone of a Wednesday press conference in which Obama blasted his foes.
“It was rhetoric, I thought, that was more appropriate for some left-wing strongman than for the president of the United States,” Rubio added.
The new attacks came after Obama used an exchange with reporters at the White House to compare Republican work habits unfavorably to those of his daughters Sasha, 10, and Malia, who turns 13 on July 4.
“Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time,” he said, mocking lawmakers’ propensity to wait until the last minute to reach a deal. “Congress can do the same thing.”
The White House shrugged of questions about Obama’s unusually combative tone as well as the furious response from Republicans, with spokesman Jay Carney telling reporters: “Oh, all of Washington is a stage.”
“Political theater is engaged in all the time in Washington by a variety of actors,” Carney said, adding that the president sought to explain “in very plain terms” that he feels “a great sense of urgency” about the budget crunch.
The White House and Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have been locked in negotiations over raising the congressionally-set limit on cash-strapped Washington’s ability to borrow.
The Obama administration says lawmakers must raise the debt ceiling by August 2 or face catastrophic economic aftershocks that will leave the fragile recovery in ruins.
Republicans have countered that they will only agree if the White House signs on to deep long-term spending cuts, while ruling out tax increases on the rich as sought by Obama and his Democratic allies.
It was unclear whether the rhetorical rampage was a final political storm before the calm of a compromise on the issue, as Democrats and most Republicans professed not to want to see the United States default on its debt payments.
But even television pundits got caught up, with MSNBC television suspending commentator Mark Halperin after he described Obama as “kind of a dick” for his press conference comments. Halperin apologized.
Most of the Republican outrage came after the White House rejected Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 11th-hour invitation for Obama to come to the Senate to discuss the dispute.
More than one lawmaker cited the president’s fondness for golfing — something he shares with his political nemesis, Republican House Speaker John Boehner — in response.
“I think the best way to get an appointment with the president is to set up a tee-time,” Republican Senator John Thune told Fox News Channel.
Democrats were hardly idle bystanders: Senator Chuck Schumer began the day with a withering speech in which he suggested that Republicans were deliberately sabotaging the economic recovery for political gain in the 2012 elections.
“That accusation is a new low in mindless partisanship. It’s loco,” shot back Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, using the Spanish word for “crazy.”
Steel said Republicans were working to boost the private sector by rolling back government regulations and spending while Democrats were focused on government solutions and “job-destroying tax hikes.”