House Speaker John Boehner says the biggest weapon congressional Republicans now have on fiscal policy are the automatic spending cuts — sequestration — now set to begin March 1.
Many commentators have cited the debt ceiling as the strongest card in Republicans’ hand. President Barack Obama needs Congress’ agreement to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling within weeks to prevent a government default.
The debt bill is "one point of leverage," Boehner tells Stephen Moore of The Wall Street Journal
. But it’s "not the ultimate leverage."
That’s the sequestration, which entails huge cuts in domestic and defense outlays. Congress would have to agree to any modification of the automatic reductions. So that gives Republicans more power to prevent further tax increases and to insist that Democrats agree to entitlement reform.
The Republican conference, including defense hawks, is willing to leave the automatic spending cuts in place if need be, Boehner says. "I got that in my back pocket, . . . [that’s] as much leverage as we're going to get." He figures liberals will push Obama to give on other issues so that their favorite domestic programs aren’t gutted.
That should push Democrats to give on entitlements, Boehner says. "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."
Boehner went on to offer a light-hearted take on his difficult role in the fiscal cliff machinations. “I need this job like I need a hole in the head,” he said.
In his negotiations with Obama over the fiscal cliff, Boehner was amazed to hear the president insist that the country doesn’t have a spending problem, that the $1 trillion budget deficits come from a healthcare problem.
“They blame all of the fiscal woes on our healthcare system," Boehner tells Moore. And he told the president, "Clearly we have a healthcare problem, which is about to get worse with Obamacare. But, Mr. President, we have a very serious spending problem."
Meanwhile, Boehner offers an anecdote that shows Obama as an ungenerous negotiator. When Boehner asked the president what he was getting in return for agreeing to $800 billion in new taxes, Obama replied, "You don't get anything for it. I'm taking that anyway."
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