ABC News’ Jonathan Karl reports: Speaker of the House John Boehner today staked out his hardest line yet on the budget, saying the House will not pass even a temporary government funding measure without spending cuts.
“Read my lips: we’re going to cut spending,” declared Boehner in front of reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday.
The message to Democrats is clear: Agree to spending cuts or face a government shutdown.
Let me explain.
Funding for the government expires on March 4. The bill the House is now debating will continue the funding until the end fiscal year 2011, but at significantly reduced levels ($61 billion less to be exact). The Senate won’t pass that bill and even if it did, the President has threatened to veto it.
If a deal can’t be worked out by March 4, the government will run out of money unless Congress passes a short-term spending measure (called a “Continuing Resolution” or “CR”) . Typically, such a measure continues funding at current levels for a period of a week or two.
But look at what Boehner said:
“I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels,” Boehner said. “We have some Democrats here on Capitol Hill threatening to shut down the government rather than to cut spending, and to follow the will of the American people. Our majority remains committed to listening to the American people.”
In other words, there are two choices: 1) cut spending; or, 2) shut down the government.
Boehner’s advisors say he was simply reflecting political reality. Even if he wanted to pass a short-term spending bill at current levels, he couldn’t. Too many Republicans have promised to cut spending and simply won’t vote for a bill that doesn’t do that.
The Speaker also drew a line in the sand on the next big battle: Raising the debt limit.
The federal government will reach the limit on the amount of money it can borrow this spring. The administration has warned of economic catastrophe if Congress doesn’t vote to increase that limit. Boehner has always suggested that Congress will do its duty, but today he said there are strings attached.
“The American people have made clear they’re not going to tolerate an increase in the debt limit unless spending cuts and reforms are implemented,” Boehner said. “Unfortunately, the president has only offered more of the same failed stimulus spending.”