Hoyer: Boehner debt-limit gambit would ‘undermine’ confidence in US

The list of Democrats blasting Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for playing politics with the debt ceiling grew quickly Tuesday, as Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) warned that anything but a smooth debt-ceiling hike would threaten the global economy.

"The debt limit should not be a political issue. Mr. Boehner knows it shouldn't be a political issue," Hoyer said during his weekly press conference in the Capitol. "Increasingly we're going to undermine the confidence in the United States by continuing this game on the debt limit. We've incurred the debts; we need to pay the debts."

ADVERTISEMENT
Boehner is set to deliver a speech Tuesday afternoon calling on Congress not to raise the debt ceiling without dollar for dollar cuts in federal spending — the same demand Republican leaders made last year during the contentious fight over how to prevent a national default.

"When the time comes, I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt-limit increase. This is the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance,” Boehner will tell the Peter G. Peterson Foundation's 2012 fiscal summit, according to the Speaker's office. 

“Just so we’re clear, I’m talking about real cuts and reforms — not these tricks and gimmicks that have given Washington a pass on grappling with its spending problem."

The debt-ceiling showdown last summer was resolved only at the last minute, as lawmakers punted on the thorniest issues by creating a budget supercommittee to find more than $1 trillion in savings — a bipartisan panel that failed to come up with a deal. The debt-ceiling law also launched more than $900 billion in automatic cuts – the so-called sequester – to popular programs like defense and Medicare.

Hoyer on Tuesday said the dollar-for-dollar approach is "a simplistic characterization of the issue that confronts us." He suggested the failure of the supercommittee – combined with more recent congressional efforts to prevent the cuts under the sequester – indicate the debt-ceiling debate is no place to negotiate the deficit grand bargain that's so far eluded Congress.

"The dollar for dollar limit, of course, led to the sequester, which none of us like," Hoyer said. "While it sounds good, the execution of that principle does not seem to be very disciplined."

Hoyer seemed sympathetic to Boehner, noting that the Speaker was close to a deal with the White House on a grand bargain before the agreement was nixed by conservatives in his caucus who oppose any new tax revenue.

"The Speaker, in my view, believes [in a broad, balanced approach] as well, [but] the Speaker's party does not believe in balance," Hoyer said. "Mr. Boehner is responding to the same people who didn't want the Export-Import Bank to pass."

ADVERTISEMENT
The Maryland Democrat also took a swipe at Republicans for blaming Democrats for the nation's fiscal problems. He noted that GOP leaders ran up enormous deficits when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House under the Bush administration.

"The Republicans are good at buying and lousy at paying. They borrowed a lot of money, as a result we owe a lot of money," he said. "They don't believe that tax cuts need to be paid for so they give away revenues, they continue to spend money and inevitably deficits occur."

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner echoed Hoyer's message Tuesday, telling the Peterson Foundation audience that paying the nation's debts "is a fundamental commitment that you can never call into question or violate."

“You can’t put that into question, you can’t put that into doubt, you can’t threaten to put that into service … of the partisan political agenda of any side of the American political spectrum," Geithner said. "It is not responsible to do that."

At current spending levels, the Treasury is expected to hit the debt limit before the end of the year, although Geithner has said the agency can forestall the need for congressional action on the ceiling until early next year.