Then, in a speech on Monday, the speaker of the House said that Republicans would insist on trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for votes to raise the debt limit. He did not mention a time frame, but even a fraction of “trillions” in the near term could do huge damage to the recovery. He also did not offer specifics on how he planned to make those cuts. After the beating Republicans took for their plan to slash Medicare, he clearly decided generalities were politically safer.
There is no way to solve the country’s fiscal ills without an accurate diagnosis and rigorous prescriptions for a cure. Mr. Boehner’s speech was devoid of both.
Among the “obstacles” to economic success he cited, he never mentioned the recession or the financial crisis, both Bush-era creations. Rather, he blamed Obama-era stimulus spending for harming the economy and job growth. Never mind that the Congressional Budget Office found that the stimulus staved off an even deeper disaster.
Mr. Boehner charged that President Obama’s policies have “crowded out” the private sector and “increased uncertainty” for “job creators.” That makes no economic sense. If the government were competing with business, interest rates would be on the rise, not at rock bottom. If employers were uncertain about making new hires, they would get work done by increasing the hours of current employees. The average workweek is stuck around 34 hours, indicating a lack of work, not uncertainty.
Mr. Boehner can’t admit all that because private-sector slack and a dearth of jobs call for more federal aid, not less. And he is bent on less — far less — no matter the true state of the economy.
The president and his aides will have to do some deft negotiating, and politicking, to secure a timely increase in the debt limit, while rebutting Mr. Boehner’s wrongheaded ideas. They should begin by setting new terms of the debate, explaining that the nation’s serious fiscal problems require thoughtful solutions — with spending cuts and tax increases and with both sides giving to get.