WASHINGTON — Republicans took the offensive Tuesday and cast President Barack Obama as the culprit for the economy's persistent frailty, hoping to shift the focus away from his State of the Union address' theme of economic fairness.
As they awaited the president's election season speech to the nation Tuesday night, Republicans in the Capitol and on the campaign trail accused Obama of three years of higher spending, bigger government and tax increases that have left the economy stuck in a ditch.
"If the president wants someone to blame for this economy, he should start with himself," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "The fact is, any CEO in America with a record like this after three years on the job would be graciously shown the door."
White House officials argue that the economy has resumed growing and generating new jobs on Obama's watch, though growth has been generally listless and the jobless rate remains at a high 8.5 percent.
One of Obama's themes will be economic fairness, including protecting the middle class and making sure the wealthy pay an equitable share of taxes. Republicans seemed determined to blunt that message and prevent the president from making it the top issue of this year's presidential and congressional elections.
"This election is going to be a referendum on the president's economic policies," which have worsened the economy, said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "The politics of envy, the politics of dividing our country is not what America is all about."
Boehner said nearly 30 House-passed bills aimed at helping the economy have stalled in the Democratic-run Senate, most of them rolling back or blocking environmental, workplace and other regulations. He said he hoped Obama "will extend somewhat of an olive branch" to work with Republicans on boosting the economy.
Despite that plea, Boehner planned a symbolic move to underscore Obama's decision to put off, for now, work on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from western Canada to Texas' Gulf Coast. Republicans say the project would create thousands of jobs, a claim opponents say is overstated.
Boehner invited three officials from companies he said would be hurt by the pipeline's rejection to watch the speech in the House chamber as his guests, along with a Nebraska legislator who helped plan a new pipeline route through his state, where environmental concerns have been raised.
Poised to give the GOP's formal, televised response to Obama was Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who flirted with running for his party's presidential nomination before deciding against it last May.
The first White House budget chief under President George W. Bush, Daniels has portrayed himself as a foe of budget deficits. He has described Obama's fiscal policies as "catastrophic."
Obama was delivering his State of the Union address during a rowdy battle for the GOP presidential nomination that has ended up playing directly into Obama's theme of economic fairness.
That fight has called attention to the wealth of one of the top contenders, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and the low — but legal — effective federal income tax rate of around 15 percent that the multi-millionaire has paid in the past two years. Romney, who is in Florida campaigned for that state's Jan. 31 primary, released his tax documents for that period on Tuesday.
"The president's agenda sounds less like "built to last" and more like doomed to fail," Romney said in remarks prepared for delivery Tuesday in Tampa, Fla. "What he's proposing is more of the same: more taxes, more spending, and more regulation."
Romney's chief rival so far, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said in a written statement that the top question about Obama's speech was whether he "will show a willingness to put aside the extremist ideology of the far left and call for a new set of policies that could lead to dramatic private sector job creation and economic growth."
The Republican National Committee was airing a television commercial in North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan and Washington, D.C., blaming Obama for 13 million people out of work and citing the bankruptcy of California energy company Solyndra, which received more than $500 million in federally backed loans.
The ad shows an Obama interview from 2009, in which he said about the faltering economy, "If I don't have this done in three years, then this is going to be a one-term proposition," a reference to his presidency.
The chairman of the House GOP's campaign arm, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, also used Obama's speech to reach out to supporters in an email.
"Unlike Democrats, House Republicans are fighting to strengthen our economy and allow small businesses to create jobs for hard working Americans," he wrote.