About a year ago, House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) went to the Economic Club of New York to draw a line in the debt-ceiling debate: no tax increases, and spending cuts greater than the increase in the debt ceiling.
Today at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 2012 Fiscal Summit, Boehner is delivering another warning, this time on the end-of-year “fiscal cliff”:
For all the focus on Election Day, another date looms large for every household and every business, and that’s January 1, 2013.
On that day, without action by Congress, a sudden and massive tax increase will be imposed on every American — by an average of $3,000 per household. Rates go up, the child tax credit is cut in half, the [alternative minimum tax] patches end, the estate tax returns . . .
Now, it gets a little more complicated than that. What will expire on January 1 is cause for concern — as is what will take effect. That includes:
Indiscriminate spending cuts of $1.2 trillion — half of which would devastate our men and women in uniform and send a signal of weakness;
Several tax increases from the health care law that is making it harder to hire new workers;
As well as a slate of energy and banking rules and regulations that will also increase the strain on the private sector.
But . . . it gets even more complicated than that.
Sometime after the election, the federal government will near the statutory debt limit.
So what is Boehner going to do about all that?
He is reissuing his debt ceiling formula: “When the time comes, I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase. This is the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance. . . . Just so we’re clear, I’m talking about REAL cuts and reforms — not these tricks and gimmicks that have given Washington a pass on grappling with its spending problem.”
Interestingly, he zings the president for the “grand bargain” negotiations, saying, “Last year, in our negotiations with the White House, the president and his team put a number of gimmicks on the table. Plenty of thought and creativity went into them – things like counting money that was never going to be spent as savings.”
Moving on to taxes, Boehner recommends, not surprisingly, a vote to stave off the end of the Bush tax cuts. But, he says, this is to “give Congress time to work on broad-based tax reform that lowers rates for individuals and businesses while closing deductions, credits, and special carveouts.” He is talking about increased revenues through a pro-growth tax code. (“We’ll have replaced the broken status quo with a tax code that maintains progressivity, taxes income once, and creates a fairer, simpler code. And if we do THAT right, we will see increased revenue from more economic growth.”)
And he makes his pitch for one more try at entitlement reform. “We can’t wait. Employers large and small are already bracing for the coming tax hikes and regulations, which freeze their plans. The markets aren’t going to wait forever; eventually they’re going to start reacting.”
Boehner also takes aim at the president once again, making explicit what has already been reported in The Post and elsewhere:
He was willing to talk about the tough choices needed to preserve and strengthen our entitlement programs, but he wasn’t ready to take action.
As it turned out, he wouldn’t agree to even the most basic entitlement reform unless it was accompanied by tax increases on small business job creators.
We were on the verge of an agreement that would have reduced the deficit by trillions, by strengthening entitlement programs and reforming the tax code with permanently lower rates for all, laying the foundation for lasting growth.
But when the president saw his former colleagues in the Senate getting ready to press for tax hikes, he lost his nerve. The political temptation was too great. He moved the goalposts, changed his stance, and demanded tax hikes.
We ended up enacting a package with cuts and reforms larger than the hike. But it could have been so much more.
There are a few take-aways from the speech.
First, the solutions proposed (tax reform, entitlement reform) are the same as Mitt Romney’s. The GOP is all on the same page.
Second, it was a speech Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) could easily have delivered. The GOP has fully embraced the reform agenda that he began to roll out as early as 2007. The press may play up a divide between the “establishment” and conservative reformers of the tea party mold, but in the Republican House, they are one and the same.
Third, part of the rationale behind the speech certainly must have been to remind voters how derelict the president has been. We have a multi-car pile-up coming at the end of the year, Boehner argues, because for four years Obama will not have done his job.
Indeed, the GOP message for 2012 is simple: Obama didn’t do his job. It is no coincidence that Romney is in Iowa today, telling voters, “There’s plenty of blame to go around for both parties. But in my years leading businesses, an Olympics and a state, I’ve learned one simple principle of leadership that never falters: Leaders lead. I will lead us out of this debt and spending crisis.”
You can’t say there is message confusion on the GOP side in this election.