House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) Monday evening drew a new line in the battle over raising the debt ceiling, telling the Economic Club of New York that House Republicans are demanding at least a $2 trillion reduction in federal spending in exchange for their support in increasing the country’s borrowing limit.
Tuesday morning, the early reactions to Boehner’s speech were split along party lines.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who is representing House Republicans in the White House’s deficit-reduction negotiations, cast Boehner’s address as a common-sense approach to the debt-limit problem.
“What he said last night was we need to make sure that if the debt ceiling is raised in this country, that there needs to be commensurate spending cuts to go along with that,” Cantor said Tuesday morning in an appearance on CNBC from the New York Stock Exchange. “What his message is, I think, what most Americans believe: that if we’re going to seek an increase in the credit limit of the country, that this country’s got to be worthy of that, which means we’ve got to get the fiscal house in order.”
House Democrats reacted with skepticism at their Republican counterparts’ call for fiscal responsibility, arguing that instead of making deep cuts to federal programs, Republicans should do away with tax breaks for the wealthy and tax credits for big oil companies.
“Democrats agree we must cut spending, and we can start by eliminating the billions in taxpayer handouts to oil companies that Republicans are currently protecting,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. ”Republicans should get their priorities straight, and stop trying to kill Medicare while defending giveaways for oil companies.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday morning that the billions of dollars in tax breaks for big oil companies represent a “great down payment” in the debt-limit fight.
“Here’s a ‘put up or shut up’ moment: If you really believe in lowering the deficit, here’s $21 billion low-hanging fruit,” Durbin said in remarks on the Senate floor.
“Democrats have a proven record of reducing the deficit and balancing budgets after disastrous economic policies of Republican Presidents,” said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was leading a congressional delegation overseas. “We are in this fiscal mess because of two unpaid wars, unpaid tax cuts for millionaires, and the unpaid prescription drug plan.”
“If Speaker Boehner is serious about working with Democrats to reduce the deficit responsibly, then he should not double down on Republican plans to end Medicare as we know it, continue tax cuts for Big Oil and millionaires and risk jobs and economic growth by cutting critical investments for winning the future,” Elshami said.
Speaking with reporters Monday evening after excerpts of Boehner’s speech had been released, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) dismissed outright the notion of tackling the federal deficit without raising taxes.
“It’s got to be a package; how does the whole thing add up? . . .I will just speak for myself, I will not support any long-term extension of the debt without a credible plan to deal with the debt,” Conrad told reporters at the Capitol. “And by credible plan, I don’t mean just on the spending side of the equation, because revenue is the lowest it’s been in 60 years as a share of GDP, spending is the highest it’s been in 60 years as a share of GDP. So, clearly you’ve got to work both sides of the equation.”
And Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking Senate Democrat, offered a pre-buttal of Boehner’s speech Monday afternoon in which he warned that the markets would judge Boehner’s address based on one criterion: whether the speaker “straightforwardly declare(s) that the House will act on the debt ceiling in a timely way.”
“The speech will be a litmus test on whether House Republicans finally intend to approach the debt ceiling as adults,” Schumer said on a conference call with reporters. “If nothing’s happening by July 15 or so, I’d say the markets are going to get really, really worried.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will address the debt-limit issue on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.
“There are still those on the other side who think we can put off difficult decisions until after the next presidential election, or beyond,” McConnell says, according to his prepared remarks. “Republicans strongly disagree. In our view, doing nothing about the debt would be far more dangerous in the long run than failing to raise the debt ceiling. Speaker Boehner reiterated the point yesterday in New York. The warning bells are simply too loud to ignore this crisis any longer, and the debt limit debate presents us with a prime opportunity for meaningful, positive action.”
We’ll keep you updated as we gather more reaction throughout the day. Particularly worth watching will be conservative members of the House Republican conference, who are readying their own conditions for a debt-limit vote, including a balanced-budget amendment and statutory spending caps. Will the proposal sketched out by Boehner Monday to be their satisfaction?