The real showdown will be on the debt ceiling and the spending sequester in March. I ask Mr. Boehner if he will take the debt-ceiling talks to the brink—risking a government shutdown and debt downgrade from the credit agencies—given that it didn't work in 2011 and President Obama has said he won't bargain on the matter.I am looking forward to the Dems starting to whine ceaselessly about entitlements....
The debt bill is "one point of leverage," Mr. Boehner says, but he also hedges, noting that it is "not the ultimate leverage." He says that Republicans won't back down from the so-called Boehner rule: that every dollar of raising the debt ceiling will require one dollar of spending cuts over the next 10 years. Rather than forcing a deal, the insistence may result in a series of monthly debt-ceiling increases.
The Republicans' stronger card, Mr. Boehner believes, will be the automatic spending sequester trigger that trims all discretionary programs—defense and domestic. It now appears that the president made a severe political miscalculation when he came up with the sequester idea in 2011.
As Mr. Boehner tells the story: Mr. Obama was sure Republicans would call for ending the sequester—the other "cliff"—because it included deep defense cuts. But Republicans never raised the issue. "It wasn't until literally last week that the White House brought up replacing the sequester," Mr. Boehner says. "They said, 'We can't have the sequester.' They were always counting on us to bring this to the table."
Mr. Boehner says he has significant Republican support, including GOP defense hawks, on his side for letting the sequester do its work. "I got that in my back pocket," the speaker says. He is counting on the president's liberal base putting pressure on him when cherished domestic programs face the sequester's sharp knife. Republican willingness to support the sequester, Mr. Boehner says, is "as much leverage as we're going to get."
That leverage, he reasons, is what will force Democrats to the table on entitlements. "Think of it this way. We already have an agreement [capping] discretionary spending for 10 years. And we're already in our second year of it. This whole discussion on the budget over the next several months is going to be about these entitlements."Lotsa luck, John. The American Sheeple just reelected a Shepherd who spends like a drunken sailor and is praised for it by a criminally corrupt media....
Given the bruising of the past several weeks, Mr. Boehner is surprisingly optimistic about getting a deal done on corporate and personal income-tax reform. "The president understands the need for tax reform," he says. "The president admitted . . . in the first meeting that we needed to do tax reform, and he was for a tax reform process that would lower rates."
Mr. Boehner sees Republicans with two goals: lowering tax rates and closing loopholes, as happened in 1986, and equalizing tax rates between small businesses and large corporations. His optimism that Democrats will agree to that framework seems Pollyannish since they are now advocating closing loopholes to raise revenues—without lowering rates.
The driving passion for Mr. Boehner in these fiscal debates is his conviction that trillion-dollar deficits are sapping the country of its energy and prosperity. When I ask him when the impact of this debt will start to be felt, he says: "It's already here today. It's killing our economy. It's causing investors to sit on their cash. They're afraid to invest. It's a wet blanket on top of our economy."
He sees debt as almost a moral failing, noting that when he grew up in a "little middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood" outside of Cincinnati, "nobody had debt. It was unheard of. I just don't do debt."
Mr. Boehner says that the only way to build long-term economic growth is to reduce the nation's debt through entitlement and tax reform. But can such a deal be achieved with a president who doesn't even think that Washington has a spending problem? "He believes in the power of government," Mr. Boehner answers. "I believe in the power of the American people. It is really that simple." And really that difficult.