Boehner says new taxes aren’t option for debt panel

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday reaffirmed GOP opposition to any tax increases to solve the nation’s deficit problem, signaling a swift return to the trench warfare that characterized the debt and spending debate of early summer.

Boehner said that the special committee seeking long-term debt reduction should acheive its mandated $1.5 trillion in savings entirely by cutting federal agency spending and shrinking entitlement programs.

“When it comes to producing savings to reach its $1.5 trillion deficit-reduction target, the joint select committee has only one option: spending cuts and entitlement reform,” Boehner said in a speech to the Economic Club of Washington.

The Boehner speech was a direct rebuttal to the $447 billion plan proposed by President Obama last week as a way to jump-start the stalled employment sector. But more than that, Boehner’s speech established that there has been little change in the fundamental positions that gridlocked Washington during the past few months.

The immediate problem is for President Obama, who is taking a beating in public opinion polls as the economy continues to sputter under the weight of more than 9 percent unemployment. The GOP has rejected Obama’s call for new taxes on the rich to finance his jobs plan, while the White House has been forced to joust with Democrats unhappy with details of his plan. The congressional calendar suggests that it will be October before Obama’s proposal will receive any formal consideration on Capitol Hill. But when it does, the debate is sure to be contentious.

The “supercommittee” held its first closed-door working session Thursday, a 90-minute breakfast meeting. Despite the general pessimism, members emerged upbeat, if tight-lipped, to declare the gathering productive.

“There is a moment in history that can be seized, a moment in history that must be seized,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), the group’s Republican co-chairman. “The American people are watching. They wish to see their government work.”

But later, in his speech, Boehner sounded all the confrontational notes of this past July.

“The president’s proposals are a poor substitute for the pro-growth policies that are needed to remove barriers to job creation in America,” the speaker said. ●

Boehner insisted that the path to creating jobs is to cut spending. If the supercommittee can rein in federal spending, he said, the economy will rebound. “The joint committee is a jobs committee,” Boehner said.

In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session before the Economic Club of Washington, Boehner dismissed the idea of resuming one-on-one negotiations with Obama. The two men tried to strike a deal during the debt-ceiling debate this summer but failed spectacularly.

“I frankly think it’s hard to put Humpty Dumpty together again,” Boehner said.

The speaker said he supported the idea of “responsible spending to repair and improve infrastructure” but insisted that such spending on bridges and highways should be tied to increased oil and natural gas drilling — a proposal Democrats do not support.

But the president’s problems with his job plan extend beyond the GOP opposition. Increasingly, Democrats have been expressing concerns as well about the jobs bill and the president’s performance in general. On Thursday, prominent Democratic strategist James Carville urged Obama to fire “a lot of people” on his team to get back on track.

And when Congress returns in early October from a planned break, Senate Democrats are likely to consider their own proposals along with some of Obama’s suggestions, despite his “pass this bill” rhetoric a week ago to a joint session of Congress.

“There were some disagreements on different parts here and there, but the overall feeling was that the administration was open to suggestions from members about different policy issues. . . . There’s the president’s bill and there’s lots of other proposals that [Senate Democrats] have,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), said Thursday.

Senate Democrats have also opposed previous efforts by Obama to limit tax deductions for home mortgage interest, and some Democrats oppose the size of this proposed spending plan given the unpopularity of the $800 billion-plus stimulus plan approved in 2009.

Part of the White House calculus is that even if the bill fails because of GOP opposition, the president will be able to make the argument that Republicans have stood in the way of solutions to the economic crisis.

Democrats point to recent polling indicating that voters tend to support several of the proposals in Obama’s jobs bill, with roughly two-thirds of the public backing a proposed extension of the payroll tax holiday and two-thirds supporting temporary funds to avoid layoffs of teachers, police officers and firefighters.

But sensing Democratic drift on this most critical of his agenda items, Obama dispatched top economic and political advisers Thursday to meet with Senate Democrats to ease concerns about the plan’s cost and whether the particular proposals would be effective in stimulating the economy. Both sides pronounced they were unified, and White House officials said that, despite the legislative hurdles, Obama had begun to rally support around the country and was building support inside the Capitol as well.

“I think the key thing is we’re off to a great start in terms of getting excitement for the American Jobs Act,” David Plouffe, Obama’s senior adviser, told reporters after a 100-minute huddle with Senate Democrats. “The vast majority of our party is committed to showing that we’re going to act on jobs.”

Reiterating a pledge from Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Schumer guaranteed a “vote on the president’s plan” but left open the possibility that it would be considered in smaller pieces. “Starting in October, we will be focused on jobs, jobs, jobs,” Schumer said.

But forging broad unity, even among Democrats, will continue to be elusive. Liberal members have fretted over the president’s proposal to cut the payroll tax, fearful of diverting money from the Social Security trust fund. They say more direct government spending on infrastructure and salaries is needed to get the economy moving.

“I have been very unequivocal,” Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) told reporters this week. “No more tax cuts. We have the economy that tax cuts give us. And it’s pretty pathetic, isn’t it?”

Staff writer Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

Read more on Postpolitics.com

Boehner’s misfire on regulations

White House reassures Democrats on jobs plan

The Fix: Deja vu all over again on debt talks

Paul Kane covers Congress and politics for the Washington Post.
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