House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday offered a pessimistic view on the debt crisis in Europe, saying, “I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Speaker was asked at his so-called “weekly alligator feed” in the basement of the Capitol if the problems in Greece and Spain could force U.S. policymakers to act on the coming “fiscal cliff” before the November elections.
“The idea that we're going to wait ... to do a year's worth of work in five or six weeks after the election is preposterous,” he continued.
The Speaker noted that he has long pressed for early action on the items that could pile up on Congress’s agenda in a lame-duck session, including the expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts, the debt ceiling and the automatic spending cuts set to take effect. He has complained that President Obama and Senate Democrats have been unwilling to negotiate before the election.
The eurozone is grappling with a debt crisis plaguing several member nations and banks. Efforts to support struggling nations like Greece have run up against political opposition to harsh cutbacks meant to restore fiscal stability.
While Boehner has steadfastly blamed the United States’s economic woes on Obama's policies, his acknowledgment that the situation in Europe is hampering domestic economic growth could give modest political cover to Democrats, who are increasingly pointing to Europe to explain the latest slowdown.
The Speaker told The Hill that he had not discussed forgoing a lame-duck session in lieu of passing a temporary delay of tax increases and defense spending cuts with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Romney told Time magazine that if he wins the election in November, he would prefer for Congress to delay the impending fiscal crisis until his would-be administration could take it on after Jan. 1.
Asked if he and Romney broached the matter during their regular phone conversations, Boehner responded with a terse “no.”
“Nobody knows what the election is going to bring; it’s clear that we're going to have to take some action – long-term or temporary, we're going to have to take some action,” Boehner said.
GOP leaders have been discussing how to handle a lame-duck Congress with the Romney campaign.
On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told The Hill that “there’s a lot of talk" on what a lame-duck agenda would look like after a Mitt Romney win. He also said the talks have included what an agenda would look like when Congress returns next year. "We’ve got the fiscal cliff, we’ve got the tax issue, we’ve got the ballooning debt ceiling — these are the kinds of things that obviously are concerning everybody,” Cantor said.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and others have offered stark warnings of an approaching fiscal cliff for the economy if Congress does not take action to prevent steep tax hikes and spending cuts set to kick in next year.
Boehner was emphatic that the House should not be blamed for lack of action.
“I pressed all year long for the president and Senate Democrats to move, move our jobs bills that are over there ... move something to replace the sequester. ... The president knows and the secretary of Defense knows that the sequester would undermine our nation's ability to protect the American people with these massive defense cuts," Boehner said. "They ought to be moving.”
The Speaker noted that the House will vote on a measure to extend the Bush-era tax rates for everyone; Democrats prefer extending them just for the middle class.
— This story was updated at 2:16 p.m.