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Demonstrating his hard line on the debt, Boehner warned in a speech at the Economic Club of New York on Monday that “without significant spending cuts and reforms to reduce our debt, there will be no debt limit increase. And the cuts should be greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority the president is given.”
“We should be talking about cuts of trillions, not just billions. They should be actual cuts and program reforms, not broad deficit or debt targets that punt the tough questions to the future,” he added.
Boehner seems to have taken some of the internal criticism he received to heart. So far, he has largely stood behind conservative demands that entitlement reforms remain part of budget talks, and he has staked out a fairly aggressive demand for deep spending reductions as part of the debt limit fight.
Unlike their listening sessions on the budget, which touched on the CR and other issues, the ongoing sessions with freshmen and rank and file on the debt limit are designed specifically for that debate. The hope, Republicans said, is to build support for specific demands before negotiations on the debt limit begin in earnest later this summer.
In addition, leadership will continue to hold weekly briefings with the full Conference as well as meeting with the freshman class to keep them apprised of how talks progress.
But the aide cautioned that once talks get serious, leaders probably will be able to provide only so much information to rank-and-file lawmakers since Boehner is wary of having too much information leak to the press.
Part of the problem on the CR may stem from Boehner’s decision to delegate much of the CR negotiation power to top staffer Barry Jackson. Lawmakers said they felt excluded from the negotiations and uninformed on key details, which led them to vote against the deal.
Aides and lawmakers privately acknowledged that Jackson himself is at issue. A skilled political operative, Jackson has long been one of the Speaker’s closest political confidants, working with him during his first decade in Congress as chief of staff before moving to the White House under George W. Bush.
Jackson’s political acumen and depth of contacts in Washington, D.C., are almost unparalleled, and they have served both him and Boehner well. But Jackson’s insider credentials and the amount of trust Boehner puts in him have caused some to question the Speaker’s reliance on him. In an era of heightened anti-Washington sentiment even among Members of Congress, Republicans have questioned his role, particularly during the CR fight.
Even Boehner’s own leadership team warned the Speaker about his handling of the deal. In multiple meetings, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), McCarthy and others complained that Jackson was settling too quickly on a low level for overall spending cuts and that it would be impossible for them to secure enough Republicans to pass the bill without Democratic help.