By Mike Lillis
Addressing a central criticism of the Republicans' new "Pledge to America," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday said he doesn't have the answer to solving Medicare's spending crisis.
To solve those problems, Boehner said, Congress will first have to initiate "an adult conversation" with voters, who will then decide what fixes to apply.
"It's time for us as Americans to have an adult conversation with each other about the serious challenges that face our country," Boehner said Thursday, responding directly to a question about entitlement solutions during the unveiling of the GOP "Pledge."
"I don't have all the solutions. But I believe that if we work with the American people, the American people will want to work with us to come to grips with these challenges that face our country.
"It's about having that adult conversation in an honest, open way that'll get us the answers to lay out the plan that will solve this problem once and for all."
The Pledge to America — a naked evocation of the GOP's 1994 Contract with America — is designed to counter criticisms that the minority Republicans have adopted a strategy of simply opposing every Democratic bill without offering specific ideas of their own.
While "not intended to cover everything under the sun," the 21-page document will offer "first steps," Boehner said, toward reining in a federal deficit that's leapt well above $1 trillion in recent years.
"The federal government is too big, it spends too much, and it's out of control," Boehner said.
Yet the document is already drawing fire because it claims to lay out a "path to a balanced budget" without specifying how to rein in spending on the entitlements — particularly Medicare and Medicaid, which together are the single largest driver of deficit spending.
Republicans are battling other inconvenient truths as well. The Pledge, for instance, takes plenty of shots at the Wall Street bailout — an initiative championed by the Bush administration and supported by GOP leaders in both chambers, including Boehner, Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
Another criticism is also gaining prominence: That Republicans did little to rein in spending when they held the majority in Congress over most of the last two decades.
"Why should [voters] believe you this time?" a reporter asked Boehner Thursday.
The minority leader conceded that Republicans "made our fair share of mistakes" when the party was in charge on Capitol Hill. But the caucus, he argued, has learned the lessons of the past.
"We've demonstrated over the last 20 months," Boehner said, "that Republicans have heard the American people."
This post was updated at noon.