Mr. Boehner and the Debt

No, Mr. Boehner wants to do it all over again: he announced on Tuesday that the House will not agree to raise the debt ceiling when it is reached later this year or early next, unless the increase is matched by equal spending cuts. “We shouldn’t dread the debt limit,” he said, instantly forcing the country to do just that. “As a matter of fact, I think we should welcome it. It’s an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction.”

An official who actually wanted to help the country rather than appeasing the Tea Party might have remembered what happened a year ago, after Mr. Boehner first made that extortionate demand. The bond rating agencies said the country’s credit and reputation had been seriously damaged, and the government lost its AAA credit rating. (Mr. Boehner shamelessly blamed Mr. Obama for that on Tuesday.) The Federal Reserve warned of “catastrophic” and “calamitous” effects if Republicans carried through on their threat to default. The stock market sank, and Congress’s approval rating has never recovered.

But all Mr. Boehner seems to remember is that he “won,” at least by his crass scoring system. Because the House threat was so serious — and because so many Republicans seemed irresponsible enough to actually carry it out — President Obama and the Democrats were forced to agree to cut $2 trillion from the budget over a decade, a huge Tea Party victory. The White House reduced the damage by sparing some safety-net programs and making sure the military budget bore a fair share of the impact. But the House voted last week to undo even that agreement and make all the cuts from domestic programs, particularly those for the poor and the struggling.

Washington’s need to deal with the long-term deficit can be met only with a combination of new revenues and rational cuts, not extortion. The overly deep cuts in last year’s deal were necessary only because Republicans refused to end tax cuts for the rich.

Mr. Boehner said on Tuesday that his party would again refuse to raise any taxes, relying on spending cuts to offset the debt increase. He also announced that the House would vote before the November election to continue all the Bush tax cuts, set to expire on Jan. 1, depriving the Treasury over a decade of more than $3.5 trillion that could be used for deficit reduction.

This time, at least, Democrats have more leverage than they did last year. The House cannot prevent those tax cuts from expiring by itself, nor can it stop the big military cuts that also begin on Jan. 1.

Some members might be willing to reach a deal, but Mr. Boehner’s decision to again threaten a default shows that he is an unreliable budget negotiator. President Obama failed to recognize that last time, and Congressional Democrats gave in too easily. We hope both are hearing the message this time around.

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