WASHINGTON -- House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) headlined a bipartisan policy event Monday that turned into partisan politics as he ripped Republicans over their fiscal policies -- and drew criticism from a key former GOP Senator who also shared the spotlight.
During a speech on fiscal policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BCP), Hoyer blasted former President George W. Bush for driving up deficits and hit Congressional Republicans for “threatening to walk away from our bills" by refusing to raise the debt limit without concessions from Democrats on major spending cuts.
"It’s so disappointing that Republicans like Speaker Boehner" are gambling with "economic disaster" with their demands, reads Hoyer's prepared remarks. "A flawed ideology is still informing Republican fiscal demands.... Why else would some falsely insist that their agenda—cuts to Medicare and other programs for the most vulnerable, and tax cuts for the wealthy—is the only possible answer to our debt?"
In addition to tough talk about Hill Republicans, Hoyer flatly blamed the Bush administration for driving more people into poverty and producing "the worst track record for job creation since the government began keeping records."
Hoyer broke from his prepared remarks at one point to say his criticisms were not meant to be partisan, even as he had just attacked Republicans for “the policies they demand as ransom [that] don’t make fiscal sense.” In this instance, he said he was simply contrasting Democratic and GOP proposals.
"I do not say this in a partisan sense, although it certainly sounds partisan," he said. "I say it in a sense of the alternative policies that are being proposed in the House and Senate."
But former Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), a BCP fellow and longtime former colleague of Hoyer's, also spoke at the event. He said Hoyer's speech sounded like typical partisan finger-pointing.
“You do a great job of making it appear that it is the Republican Party that is responsible for the debt,” Domenici said to Hoyer. “It's not correct to say that the Democrats are not a big part of the debt problem of the United States. I mean, they prefer spending to what the Republicans prefer. There’s no doubt about that.”
Domenici pushed back against Hoyer's criticism that Republicans won't put taxes on the table; he countered by pressing the Minority Leader on Democrats' willingness to consider cuts to Medicare as part of a deal.
“It doesn't do any good to say Republicans won't go for taxes and then Democrats say that the major cause of the expenditure explosion, which is health care, [does not have] to be on the table," said the former GOP Senator. "I understand when that question is asked, it's a field goal kicked or a punt is made and nobody answers the question. I submit that must be answered: Are you willing or not?"
Domenici, who retired in 2008, also criticized Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for letting Congress “catch him in a gigantic misstatement” over the actual date when the nation will hit its debt limit.
"He kept saying we're going to go in default ... and then he kept finding money," said Domenici. "Now we've got a group of people arguing with him that ... you don't have to extend it, you can just find money in different places."
What would "truly be good," Demenici said, is if President Obama educated the public on the debt issue so people understood how serious the problem is. "That's what we’re lacking right now."