(Updates with response from Obama spokesman, beginning in first paragraph.)
Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan accused President Barack Obama of attempting to exploit resentment of the wealthy in promoting his stalled economic agenda, prompting an administration response that criticized the Wisconsin Republican.
Ryan said that Obama, in his weeks-long campaign for his jobs plan, is “sowing social unrest and class resentment” and “pitting one group against another.”
“Instead of appealing to the hope and optimism that were the hallmarks of his first campaign, he has launched his second campaign by preying on the emotions of fear, envy and resentment,” said Ryan in a speech today at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Obama has mounted a populist-style campaign for his $447 billion jobs agenda, which he outlined in September and would be financed with a new surtax on millionaires.
“We should all pay our fair share in taxes,” Obama said earlier this month. “That’s not class warfare -- that’s not an attack on anybody. That’s just common sense. That’s just fairness.”
Republicans have thwarted the Obama plan from advancing in Congress.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked about Ryan’s comments, said the president has sought to find common ground with Republican lawmakers while that party’s Senate leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has said his top priority is making sure Obama doesn’t get re-elected.
“Sounds like politics of division to me,” Carney told reporters traveling with Obama back to Washington from a three-state visit to the West.
Carney also said a Ryan plan the House passed in April that would convert Medicare to a system of subsidized private health coverage and cut spending by more than $6 trillion over a decade “seems pretty divisive to me.”
Ryan’s speech came one day after the Congressional Budget Office reported the distribution of incomes in the U.S. has become increasingly unequal, with the top 1 percent seeing their earnings rise 275 percent over the past 30 years. Those whose earnings put them in the bottom 20 percent of incomes grew by 18 percent.
The average American household’s income grew by 62 percent between 1979 and 2007, the CBO said.
Ryan said government actions ought to combat inequality by making it easier for everyone to be successful rather than through policies he said would punish the wealthy.
“Justice is done when we level the playing field from the starting line and rewards are proportionate to merit and effort,” Ryan said.
He scoffed at the “false morality that confuses fairness with redistribution,” and presumes “most differences in wealth and rewards are matters of luck or exploitation and few really deserve what they have.”
Obama has expressed a measure of solidarity with Wall Street protesters, saying they are “giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works.”
Asked about the protesters, Ryan said, “It’s fine that people want to petition and air their grievances as long as nobody gets hurt.” He also said: “I’m not precisely sure” what sort of policy changes the protesters are seeking.
He accused Obama of misrepresenting the differences between the parties, quoting the president’s remarks last week that Republicans support “dirtier air, dirtier water, fewer people on health care.”
“Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care?” Ryan asked. “He’s going from town to town, impugning the motives of Republicans, setting up straw men and scapegoats and engaging in intellectually lazy arguments as he tries to build support for punitive tax hikes on job creators.”
Obama continued to press his case in a speech in Colorado today, criticizing an “increasingly dysfunctional” Congress.
“There are some in Washington who don’t seem to share the same sense of urgency” about the economy, he said at the University of Colorado’s Denver campus. “How can you say no to creating jobs when so many people are looking for work?”
--With assistance from Kate Andersen Brower aboard Air Force One and Roger Runningen in Washington. Editors: Don Frederick, Justin Blum
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