First End the Crisis, Then Talk

John Boehner

As President Obama forcefully asserted at a news conference later in the day, there can be no negotiations until the government is open and until Republicans raise the debt ceiling and end the possibility of default. Negotiating under threat of economic calamity is untenable.

Once those threats are removed, however, there is plenty to discuss: how to replace the sequester cuts, which are already devastating domestic programs and are about to get much worse for defense spending; how to use fiscal policy to stimulate the creation of jobs and fix the nation’s infrastructure; how to repair a broken tax system, reduce long-term debt, and ensure that social welfare programs remain healthy.

These issues have been staring Congress in the face for years, and Republicans have run from them. They rejected Mr. Obama’s 2011 proposal for a grand bargain to reduce the deficit by cutting spending and raising tax revenues. Last year’s supercommittee briefly created the possibility that the two sides might agree on another debt-reduction package, but Republicans refused to even consider a deal that included higher revenues.

Then, in April, when the Senate passed a budget that offered a similar mix of tax revenues and more reasonable spending cuts to end the sequester, the House refused even to discuss it in a conference committee. That budget remains on the table, and the Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, Patty Murray of Washington, asked for a conference on Tuesday for the 20th time. Sure enough, Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican of Alabama, blocked it.

The bill that would create the new supercommittee would only allow the committee to examine spending levels and “reforms,” and it says nothing about revenue levels.

After years of recalcitrance, one thing has become clear: Republicans don’t want to negotiate on budget issues. They only want their way, a budget that contains only cuts, in contrast to the balanced approach from Democrats.

As Mr. Obama said, Speaker John Boehner is demanding that “Democrats give a lot of concessions to Republicans, Republicans don’t give anything, and then that’s dubbed as compromise.” There’s no need for a newly created committee, he said, when the House and Senate budget committees already have spending and revenue blueprints they can use as the basis for bargaining.

But those talks can be held only after a resolution to the current crisis. The path forward is glaringly obvious even to a growing number of House Republicans: a clean continuing resolution to fund the government for a few weeks or months, and an unconditional increase in the debt limit.

If Mr. Boehner continues to refuse to put those measures on the floor, Republicans and Democrats should join together to sign a discharge petition to force a vote, which would undoubtedly pass. And then the talks about what would be good for the country’s future can begin.

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