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Obama and Boehner debate GOP's "Pledge to America"

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 9, 2010; 1:19 PM

Many Republican candidates haven't even read the "Pledge to America," the governing plan released by the House GOP last month. And Democratic candidates aren't really bothering to attack it, preferring to talk about Social Security and other issues more familiar to voters.

But in what could be a preview of Washington in 2011, two men are engaged in an almost daily debate about the pledge and what it means: President Obama and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Boehner, in the latest in a series of speeches highlighting how he would run the House if he becomes speaker, said Friday that the pledge was "a new way forward that hasn't been tried in Washington."

"The Pledge to America is a break not only from the direction in which President Obama is headed but also a break from the direction Republicans were headed when we last had the opportunity to govern," Boehner said in a speech in West Chester, Ohio, where he grew up.

Obama, meanwhile, is invoking it on the campaign trail, accusing Republicans of putting forth old ideas - and bad ones.

"The Pledge to America, it's the same stuff they've been peddling for years," he said Thursday night at a fundraiser in Chicago for Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias. "They're trying to hoodwink you once again."

Obama has been specifically highlighting one plank in the pledge: the Republicans' commitment to cut $100 billion in spending to help balance the budget.

Although the amount wouldn't make a huge dent in the deficit, which is more than $1 trillion, Democrats say it would mean drastic cuts to major programs. Because Republicans have said they would exempt services to senior citizens and veterans as well as defense spending, Democrats say a huge swath of the cuts would hit education and other popular areas.

In his speech, Obama predicted that 8 million students would receive smaller Pell Grants if Republicans win control of Congress and enact their plan.

"At a time when education is the biggest predictor of a country's economic success," Obama said, Republicans "think it's more important to provide these tax breaks to folks who don't need them, weren't asking for them, than it is to make sure that our young people can get to college - which makes me want to ask our Republican friends: Do you think China is cutting back on education? Do you think South Korea is making it harder for its citizens to get a college education?"

Republicans reject this charge, saying they will work with Democrats and the administration to find spending cuts from a variety of government programs to reach their goal, though they declined to provide details.

Boehner says balancing the budget will be impossible without changes in how Congress operates, such as reducing the size and scope of bills. Boehner pointed to how the GOP wants to repeal the health-care law, a provision of the Republicans' pledge that Obama did not highlight in Chicago.

"The very structure of Congress right now is rigged in favor of spending," Boehner said Friday. "If we're going to confront the massive challenges that lie ahead for our country, the American people understand this has to change."

"The bottom line is this," he added. "To help our economy create jobs, we have to stop all of the coming tax hikes and cut spending - and to cut spending, we need to change Congress itself."

Boehner called the government "out of control" and said to a cheering audience, "Do you have to take it? . . . Hell no, you don't!"

But despite both men's focus on the pledge, it's not clear that either is winning the argument. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week showed a majority of voters said they haven't heard of it.

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