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Once More Unto the Budget Breach

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Speaker John Boehner demanded that an expected year-end debt limit increase be offset with equal or greater spending cuts or reforms — the same demand he made last year, dubbed the “Boehner Rule.”

Last year’s debt limit crisis helped spark the first debt downgrade in history.

The White House would likely rather be talking about the president’s plans to spur growth instead of getting dragged back into another debt limit hostage crisis — especially with presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney ramping up his criticism Tuesday of the debt piled up by the president.

The White House and Democrats have made clear that they are prepared to talk to Republicans about a way forward on the fiscal cliff, but only when Republicans agree to compromise on taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ripped Boehner’s position and predicted that nothing much would happen before the November elections.

“Republicans can grandstand all they want. The fact is any agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff facing us at the end of this year must not gut programs that support the middle class like Medicare and Social Security and education. It must be balanced with policies that ask millionaires to help a little bit and do their fair share. … It’s pretty clear to me that the tea party direction of the Republican Party is driving them over a cliff.”

Republicans have refused to consider raising taxes on the wealthy as part of a compromise, they note, and Democrats aren’t about to cut Medicare and other programs unless the pain is shared.

White House Press Secretary Jay
Carney said the president will not participate in a repeat of last year’s brinkmanship. The prospect of a debt fight do-over “suggests to me that maybe somebody wants to test the proposition that you can’t get to zero in your approval rating,” he said. “I mean, Congress tried last year. It got to single digits. But perhaps they want to set a record. But the president’s not going to enable them in that cause.”

Instead, the administration intends to push hard for the latest iteration of the president’s jobs agenda — summoning Boehner and other Congressional leaders to the White House on Wednesday to discuss it.

Obama will try and pressure the GOP to back his plan to cut taxes for small businesses who hire new workers, as well as the other items on his agenda, such as allowing millions of homeowners to refinance their mortgages even if their homes are worth less than they owe.

Meanwhile, at an event in Iowa, Romney warned of “a prairie fire of debt,” blasting the president’s stimulus package and health care laws. “That fire could care less if you have a donkey or an elephant in your front lawn, it’s still coming for your house,” he said.

Boehner’s comments, while likely tailored to appeal to the most conservative elements of his Conference, were met with “lots of eye rolling,” according to a GOP aide.

“Although most folks believe that the Speaker wants to offset any debt ceiling increases with bigger cuts, we know he won’t use his political muscle to make that happen,” the aide said.

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