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Posted at 11:48 AM ET, 05/20/2012

Mitch McConnell, John Boehner double down on deficit concerns


House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) looks on at right as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gestures during a news conference in March 2011. (Alex Brandon - Associated Press)

Republican leaders doubled down Sunday on a renewed push to secure spending cuts as part of any deal to increase the national debt limit, drawing a sharper line in an emerging fight over the issue.

Using sharp rhetoric reminiscent of last summer’s fight over the issue, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said President Obama “needs to become the adult” in discussions with congressional leaders on spending and debt.

“The Speaker and I have been the adults in the room, arguing that we ought to do something about the nation’s most serious long-term problem,” McConnell said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” where he once again backed calls made this week by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to cut government spending as part of any plan to raise the debt ceiling.

But McConnell wouldn’t back Boehner’s calls to begin discussing the issue before the November elections, saying instead that he would wait for Obama to formally request an increase in the federal debt ceiling.

“Without presidential leadership, nothing can be accomplished. We didn’t have presidential leadership last year, it’s pretty clear the president isn’t going to lead on this anytime soon, unless he engages,” McConnell said on CBS. “We don’t control the entire government, we control the House of Representatives only. We’d like to do something about the nation’s biggest problem, spending and debt, which of course is the reason for this economic malaise.”

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday that Republicans shouldn’t wait for Obama, and suggested that if Boehner is serious about moving quickly on economic matters, he should act quickly on some tax cuts.

“I challenge the speaker right now to bring the middle income tax cuts to the floor,” Pelosi said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I think it 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.”

Using language similar to McConnell’s, Pelosi charged that GOP leaders are not being “responsible” or “mature” regarding discussions of the deficit.

For his part, Boehner acknowledged Sunday that it could prove difficult to hold together his GOP conference as Congress and the White House work later this year to sort out several critical economic issues — raising the debt ceiling, determining whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts and whether to rejigger mandatory spending cuts set to take effect in January.

“It’s hard to keep 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to get a bill passed,” Boehner said in a separate ABC interview. He also dismissed suggestions that his call for deeper spending cuts would adversely affect the economy.

“The issue is the debt. People aren’t clamoring to invest in Greece today,” the Speaker said. “If we don’t begin to deal with our debt and deficit in a serious way, we’re not going to have many options. I’m not going to apologize for leading. The real issue here is, will the president lead?”

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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By  |  11:48 AM ET, 05/20/2012

 
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