President Barack Obama opened a full-frontal assault Tuesday on the federal budget adopted by House Republicans, condemning it as a "Trojan horse" that would greatly deepen inequality in the United States and painting it as the manifesto of a party that has swung radically to the right.
Warning against what he said would be severe cuts to college scholarships, medical research, national parks and even technology to make accurate weather forecasts, Obama said the Republican budget was "so far to the right, it makes the Contract With America" — Newt Gingrich's legislative manifesto of 1994 — "look like the New Deal."
Obama's scathing attack, in a speech to editors and reporters from the Associated Press, was part of a broad indictment of the Republican Party that included the president's likely opponent in the fall, Mitt Romney.
The House budget, and the philosophy it represents, Obama said, is "antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everyone who's willing to work for it — a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class."
Republicans fired back quickly at the president, with House Speaker John Boehner accusing him of lobbing "partisan potshots" at Republicans rather than responding to their budget plan with a responsible counteroffer.
A spokesman for the House Budget Committee, Conor Sweeney, said Obama's assertions about the cuts in the budget "are simply false."
Obama's timing added to the political punch: The president spoke on the day of the Republican primary in Wisconsin, home of the budget's key architect, Rep. Paul D. Ryan.
Many of Obama's themes echoed his State of the Union address in January and his speech in Osawatomie, Kan., in December, when he invoked a Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, who he said combined a fervent belief in the free market with a resolve to protect those vulnerable to its excesses.
But the president reserved his harshest words for the 2013 budget proposal. The budget, he said, calls for radical across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending, as well as tax cuts, mostly for households earning more than $250,000, which he said would cost $4.6 trillion over the next decade.
"Disguised as a deficit-reduction plan, it's really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It's nothing but thinly veiled social Darwinism," Obama said. "By gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that's built to last — education and training, research and development — it's a prescription for decline."
Singling out Medicare, the president asserted that the Republican plan to shift people to a system of vouchers would drive up the cost of health care for the elderly, since private insurance companies would target the youngest and healthiest people and leave the rest to rely on Medicare.
For millionaires, the president said, the average annual benefit of the tax cuts would be $150,000 — money that could be used to pay for computer labs in schools, salaries for police officers and firefighters, medical care for returning veterans, or a year's worth of prescription drugs for older people.
The White House's calculation for the tax benefit is straightforward, but Republicans on the House Budget Committee say it is wrong. The average household earning more than $1 million would gain $46,000 from the House budget's repeal of the Medicare hospital insurance tax that was part of the health care law, the Republicans said, and $105,000 from the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts that Obama wants to expire next year.
But the shape of the tax code is left largely unknown by the budget. The blueprint calls for the six existing income tax rates to be collapsed into just two, 25 percent and 10 percent. The revenue loss would have to be made up by the repeal of unspecified tax credits and deductions. It would be up to the House Ways and Means Committee to determine how that would be done.
The House budget, passed last week in a vote largely along party lines, would cut taxes for the wealthy, revamp Medicare and slash federal spending. The Ryan-led effort, the party argues, is the only one that seriously tackles the nation's $11 trillion public debt load.
That plan is doomed to die in the Senate, but Obama held it up as a sign of the disaster that he says would come if Republicans got their way.
Asked about the fate of his health care reform law, his signature legislative achievement, Obama said his administration was "not spending a whole lot of time planning for contingencies" in the event that the law is struck down. He said he expected the Supreme Court to uphold the law as constitutional because justices "take their responsibilities very seriously."
Romney is scheduled to speak today at another luncheon that is part of the larger Newspaper Association of America gathering in Washington.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.