House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, stood by his call insisting that any increase in the debt limit should be offset by greater cuts in spending and tax reform before the end of the year, saying that working toward an agreement now would improve the economy.
“Dealing with our deficit and our debt would help create more economic growth in the United States,” Speaker Boehner told me in an exclusive “This Week” interview. “And it would lift this cloud of uncertainty that’s causing employers to wonder what’s next. So dealing with our debt and our deficit are critically important.”
“If we don’t begin to deal with our debt and our deficit in an honest and serious way, we’re not gonna have many options,” Boehner added. “I’m trying to prevent…Washington from kicking the can down the road one more time.”
Last Tuesday at a fiscal summit in Washington, Speaker Boehner said he would draw “a line in the sand” requiring that any increase in the debt limit be offset by spending cuts, saying in a speech, “When the time comes, I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase.”
Boehner was criticized by Obama administration officials and congressional Democrats who said his remarks signaled the same brinkmanship over raising the debt limit as happened last summer.
“Last year just the threat of not lifting the debt ceiling caused … our credit rating to be lowered. This is not a responsible, mature, sensible place for us to go,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told me in an exclusive interview in response to Boehner’s remarks. “We all know we have to reduce the deficit. We have to do it in a balanced way. The Speaker wants to go over the edge.”
But Boehner maintained that work must begin on a larger agreement on the deficit and tax reform now, rather than waiting until the lame duck session after the election.
“Why do we want to wait and rush this through at the end of the year, after the election?” Boehner asked. “It’s important that we actually do what the American people sent us here to do. Why do we always have to allow elections to get in the way of doing the right thing?”
Pelosi agreed in part, challenging Boehner to bring an extension of the Bush administration’s tax cuts for the middle class up for a vote now – but she insisted that tax cuts for the wealthy should not be extended.
“Bringing middle income tax cuts to the floor now, passing those would help our economic recovery, would be a clear signal that the upper end tax cuts for the wealthy will expire, because … the middle income tax cuts will not be held hostage to those,” Pelosi said. “And that we can go to the table and say, what are the cuts we need to make? What is the revenue that we have?”
“President Obama supports a balanced approach that says, ‘Let’s create jobs. Let’s make the cuts. Let’s bring in revenue,” Pelosi added. “Let’s do this in a way that honors the middle class, not … having our focus on tax cuts on millionaires.”
Boehner said he isn’t “shy about leading” on the deficit debate, but acknowledged that he will have to get his own Republican House members on board, which he struggled to do during last summer’s debt ceiling debate.
“Leaders need followers. And we’ve got 89 brand new members. We’ve got a pretty disparate caucus,” Boehner said. “And it is hard to keep 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to get a bill passed… But, you know, if we weren’t trying to do big things on behalf of our country, my job would be a lot easier.”