“The big deal is dead.”
So declares syndicated columnist and conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, who dismissed any chance Monday that the House of Representatives will approve the White House’s $4 trillion plan to cut spending, raise tax revenues and the debt ceiling, and also reform entitlement programs.
Buchanan said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program that if House Speaker John Boehner were to go along with the administration’s plan for $1 trillion in tax increases – which is what President Barack Obama
needs to persuade Democrats to buy into the $4 trillion in spending cuts required to raise the debt ceiling by a corresponding amount – Boehner would be out as speaker “in two weeks.”
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told Newsmax on Friday: “The speaker has made it clear that the American people will not tolerate – and the House will not pass – a debt-limit increase without spending cuts greater than the increase, and reforms that will bring down future spending. The only thing off the table is tax hikes, because tax hikes destroy jobs.”
Obama has been pushing for an omnibus $4 trillion hike in the nation’s debt ceiling in order to avoid revisiting the controversial issue of the national debt before the 2012 elections.
Including entitlement reform in the negotiations, Obama knows, makes it much easier for Democrats to find actuarial and accounting changes that cut spending over many years, rather than making the immediate reductions in discretionary spending that are so unpopular with the Democratic base.
Grass-roots conservatives have expressed intense skepticism over that approach, however, and are demanding any budget cuts be “front-loaded” to put the brakes on the pace of government expansion.
Obama said Monday morning that he also hopes to get the debt-ceiling debate in the rearview mirror, in order to focus Beltway power brokers on fixing the high unemployment rate that threatens his prospects for re-election.
But as Buchanan notes, House Republicans, most of whom campaigned on pledges not to raise taxes, have little interest in going along with any grand bargain that would add revenues to the federal coffers.
Last week, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, D-Va., told Boehner that the Republican caucus would not go along if the GOP leadership cut a deal with Obama that increased tax revenues.
Boehner subsequently announced that the $4 trillion deal was unrealistic. He recommended that D.C.’s power brokers focus on a smaller deal -- involving perhaps $2 trillion in spending cuts but no tax increases -- could be struck to increase the debt ceiling.
The Treasury Department has set Aug. 2 as the deadline for an agreement, a deadline several leading Republicans have described as artificial.
“I think all Boehner can do is get the debt ceiling raised with cuts,” Buchanan said Monday. “Anything else, forget it.”
If Boehner were to sign onto a deal that included more taxes, Buchanan said it would “split the Republican caucus in the House, and Boehner will be out.”
But Buchanan, whose new book is “Suicide of a Superpower: Will American Survive to 2025,” said he sees a way Boehner could emerge from the debt-ceiling batter stronger than ever.
He recommends Boehner put the onus on Democrats by working with Republicans and conservative Democrats in the House and Senate to pass a more modest bill that would cut spending and raise the debt ceiling without raising taxes.
If Democrats rejected that proposal, Buchanan indicated, they arguably would be responsible for shutting down the government.
Asked by “Morning Joe” host and former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough why Speaker Boehner couldn’t get a more ambitious deal that would also address the nation’s entitlement shortfalls, Buchanan replied: “Boehner can’t get it through the House ... I mean if John Boehner tries to push through a trillion dollars in tax hikes through the House, he’s not speaker in two weeks.”
One of Buchanan’s fellow panelists on the program, New York magazine political analyst John Heilemann, suggested that Boehner’s inability to control his own caucus indicates the speaker really is not in charge of the House of Representatives.
“John Boehner said he didn’t want to be speaker just to have the name, he wanted to do good things,” Heilemann said. “And I think what we learned over this last weekend is that he’s not really speaker of the House. Eric Cantor is the speaker of the House."
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