Speaker John Boehner sparked a fiscal frenzy Tuesday, firing the opening salvo in what is sure to be an epic end-of-year fight over taxes, spending and debt.
Seeking to frame the coming lame-duck session, the Ohio Republican demanded that an expected year-end debt limit increase be offset with equal or greater spending cuts or reforms. It’s the same demand he made last year, dubbed the “Boehner Rule.”
“We shouldn’t dread the debt limit; we should welcome it,” Boehner said.
But the demand sparked a fervent backlash from Democrats and the White House, all but ensuring the government heads to the fiscal brink once again.
Boehner, speaking at the annual fiscal summit organized by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, framed the coming fight as an opportunity.
“What I’m trying to do here is use the debt ceiling as an action-forcing event to force the process here to deliver more change than it would on its own,” he said.
Boehner, however, made it clear he doesn’t support raising taxes — a key demand of Democrats — leaving both sides at a stalemate.
The Speaker outlined his plans to vote before the elections on language preserving the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, as well as affirming the party’s commitment to overhauling the tax code.
“If we do this right, we will never again have to deal with the uncertainty of expiring tax rates,” he said. “We’ll have replaced the broken status quo with a tax code that maintains progressivity, taxes income once and creates a fairer, simpler code.”
Boehner also took aim at President Barack Obama, accusing him of losing his nerve to pursue a debt grand bargain without tax hikes last year after Senate Democrats balked.
“I hope the president will step up, bring his party’s Senate leaders along and work with us,” Boehner said. “Because if there’s one action-forcing event that trumps all the rest — even the debt limit — it’s presidential leadership.”
But before the Speaker even took the stage, Democrats, reacting to excerpts of his speech, accused Republicans of playing games with the full faith and credit of the government.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, another speaker at the summit, said it would be irresponsible to call into question the country’s creditworthiness.
“You can’t put it into doubt … or threaten to undermine that in service of a partisan political agenda,” he said. “Only Congress, of course, can act to raise the debt limit, and we hope they do that this time without the drama and the pain and the damage they caused the country last July.”