Boehner Draws Debt Ceiling Battle Lines
With the government driving the country past the $15.6 trillion dollar debt mark, the obvious question is whether our leaders have the wherewithal to make the tough decisions necessary to cut spending to a level that returns sensibility to the operation of the federal government; recent history would suggest a resounding no.
European countries have not taken well to austerity moves required by their neighbors to receive bail-out assistance and avoid default. Just yesterday Greece encountered a bank-run when nearly €700 million ($898 million) was withdrawn by depositors. Greece has operated without a government for several weeks now as voters voiced their opinion against moves required by the European Union. Greeks with money added to the concerns by ordering more than $800 million in German bonds, further depleting the Greek economy of precious funds.
Some political pundits have predicted that the U.S. is the next Greece. The assessment is probably overstated, however continued spending at the rate of the last decade make such predictions more plausible.
Today Speaker of the House John Boehner spoke at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 2012 fiscal summit saying, “When the time comes, I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase.” Boehner has insisted that the upcoming debt ceiling increase, scheduled for later this year, will not clear the U.S. House of Representatives without dollar-for-dollar cuts in spending. Boehner’s words offer a tinge of déjà vu from last summer that gave us the failed Super Committee. Are we headed for yet another punt by the Congress as we approach a debt ceiling increase debate late this year?
Boehner Says GOP Won’t Budge
Boehner’s comments make it likely the nation will be treated to more bickering, finger-pointing and political posturing, with no resolution to the country’s fiscal dilemma. The once a routine vote to raise the federal debt ceiling is no longer palatable to the majority of Americans who are faced with stark choices in their own personal lives while the government lives high-on-the-hog.
“This is the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance,” Speaker Boehner said.
Surely the American public will not stomach another Boehner-Obama showdown and Super Committee fiasco. Both sides of the political aisle are positioning themselves for the election with Republicans taking a stance they know cannot pass the Senate and Democrats an anti-austerity position more akin to the people of Greece. The question becomes whether the electorate is closer to Greece’s stance of government benefits at any cost or the Tea Party’s view of a smaller more responsible government? The nation’s and certainly Speaker Boehner’s future are tied to how the public responds to that question.
Just this past week, Boehner’s GOP-controlled House submitted a budget intended to stave off the automatic cuts to defense spending resulting from the Super Committee’s failure to recommend budget cuts last year; the Republican proposal replaces the cuts to defense spending with cuts to domestic programs. The Democrats will only allow reversal of the defense cuts with increases in taxes to prevent cuts in government services.
The next debt ceiling vote is expected shortly after Election Day, setting up a major battle in the lame duck session where many members of Congress will have nothing to lose. Will anything happen to address the downward spiral both sides have created as they bow to special interests? Adding to the mess facing a Congress likely to have a significant number of members that will not be returning is the expiration of the Bush tax cuts that will hit a weak economy on January 1, 2013; it’s a recipe for disaster.
Boehner has said the House will vote to extend the Bush tax cuts before the election, putting the chamber on record ahead of the lame duck negotiations. Boehner has indicated that the GOP bill will also include instructions to expedite a broader overhaul of the tax code in 2013. “The bottom line is: if we do this right, this will be the last time we ever have to confront the uncertainty of expiring tax rates,” according to excerpts from Boehner’s prepared comments.
The fall election will have a major impact on both party’s leverage in the lame duck session. If Mr. Obama holds the White House the Democrats are likely to dig in. Unless Mitt Romney wins a decisive victory and the Republicans hold the House and take the Senate nothing is likely to change; but then again, isn’t this what we’ve become accustomed to in Washington?