WASHINGTON – House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Monday that Republicans want “trillions” in budget cuts in exchange for their vote to increase the nation’s borrowing limit and avoid default, adopting a hard line of the party’s position in a speech before major players on Wall Street.
Boehner told the Economic Club of New York that his party wants specific spending cuts – not future targets that would trigger spending reductions or revenue increases, as President Barack Obama has proposed.
Laying down a marker on the eve of new budget negotiations, the Ohio Republican also said he wants the amount of the cuts to exceed any increase in the nation’s borrowing limit, a demand that probably would mean new spending reductions of $2 trillion or more – many times higher than the $38 billion in cuts approved last month in the 2011 budget.
“It’s true that allowing America to default would be irresponsible. But it would be more irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without simultaneously taking dramatic steps to reduce spending and reform the budget process,” Boehner said.
Boehner’s address before the New York audience came as Obama called lawmakers to the White House for several days of talks this week over raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit.
Boehner has been increasingly caught in a political squeeze. On one side, the Obama administration and its allies have demanded that GOP officials reassure markets that they won’t gamble with U.S. debt obligations. On the other side, tea party activists charged Monday that GOP leaders were selling out the nation’s conservatives. Last week, GOP leaders backed away from the party’s controversial proposal to overhaul and eventually privatize Medicare.
“I wish our tearful House speaker would just show some compassion for American taxpayers and our children,” said the Rev. William Temple, a tea party activist from Georgia, speaking at the National Press Club. “It’s a cowardly act of treason against coming generations and we may be able to give Mr. Boehner something to really cry about in 2012.”
Boehner notably did not fully embrace the party’s Medicare plan, beyond saying there must be “honest conversations” about the program.
The Treasury Department has estimated the country would default on its obligations by Aug. 2. But top Democrats warn against prolonging the debate past mid-July for fear of roiling jittery financial markets and risking the nation’s fragile economic recovery.
Many Republicans won their seats in Congress after campaigning against the debt limit, and Temple said the tea party groups would be grading lawmakers on the debt ceiling vote alone.
“If you vote to raise the debt ceiling you get a ‘zero’ for the year from the tea party,” he said. “If you don’t vote to raise the debt ceiling you get a ‘100’ and you’re a hero.”
Democrats warned Boehner not to prolong the debate. “This is playing with fire,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “Speaker Boehner needs to have that adult moment right now.”