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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
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And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama launched a salvo in the general election campaign today, taking on Republicans for their budget plans. He called legislation passed by the House last week radical. So far to the right, he said, it makes the 1990s-era Contract with America look like the New Deal. And the president also singled out Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney for embracing the budget, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Just yesterday, President Obama said he was willing to cut Mitt Romney some slack because the former Massachusetts governor was still trying to nail down the GOP nomination. Today, it seems the time for pulling punches has ended. In a speech to the American Society of News Editors, Mr. Obama delivered a point-by-point attack on Romney and the Republican budget. He said the GOP's spending plan adopted by the House last week would gut federal spending on education and health care while delivering big tax breaks to the rich.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is a Trojan horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it's really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama said budget ideas once criticized by Newt Gingrich as right-wing social engineering have now been embraced by the GOP establishment. And that includes the frontrunner in the Republican presidential race.
OBAMA: One of my potential opponents, Governor Romney, has said that he hoped a similar version of this plan from last year would be introduced as a bill on day one of his presidency. He said that he's very supportive of this new budget. And he even called it marvelous, which is a word you don't often hear when it comes to describing a budget.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
OBAMA: It's a word you don't often hear generally.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HORSLEY: The Romney campaign quickly pointed out several instances in which Mr. Obama himself used the word. Romney has been campaigning with the author of the GOP budget - Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan - in the days leading up to today's Wisconsin primary. Political analyst Jack Pitney, of Claremont McKenna College, says Mr. Obama seemed to acknowledge that primary could send the presidential contest into a new phase.
DR. JACK PITNEY: I think he's very much aware that Romney is the likely Republican nominee, and the president is already thinking about the November election.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama is trying to frame that election around what he calls a central question for the country: Can the U.S. succeed when a shrinking number of people do very well while a growing number struggle to get by?
OBAMA: In this country, broad-based prosperity has never trickled down from the success of a wealthy few. It has always come from the success of a strong and growing middle class.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama argued the Republican budget, with its emphasis on tax cuts for the wealthy, amounts to a misguided bet on a failed economic experiment.
OBAMA: At the beginning of the last decade, the wealthiest Americans received a huge tax cut in 2001 and another huge tax cut in 2003. We were promised that these tax cuts would lead to faster job growth. They did not.
HORSLEY: In fact, job growth in the decade following the Bush tax cuts was a fraction of what it was in the 1990s. Mr. Obama promised to spend the coming months fighting for his own alternative priorities. Those include continued investments in education and research, funded in part with higher taxes on the wealthy. For his part, Romney seems eager to have this debate. Political analyst Pitney says it could be a good one.
PITNEY: If the candidates are talking seriously about serious policy choices, I think that's the kind of debate the American public would like. They want to talk about the issues. They want to talk about the big things rather than personalities or side issues. And so this is the discussion that both sides are ready for.
HORSLEY: Indeed, Romney gets his chance to address the same audience of news editors tomorrow. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.