Hoyer: Boehner's speech was 'disappointing,' 'not particularly helpful'

If Republicans want spending cuts to be a part of a "fiscal-cliff" package, they'll have to start proposing them themselves, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.

"The Republicans have a responsibility, if they want to cut spending, to say where they want to cut it," Hoyer said during his weekly press briefing in the Capitol. "We're not going to fill in the details of their proposal. ... They need to make their proposal."

ADVERTISEMENT
Hoyer, the Democratic whip, was responding to charges from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), made just moments earlier, that President Obama is not serious about cutting federal spending as part of the bipartisan negotiations to secure a year-end tax-and-spending package.

“Where are the president’s spending cuts?” Boehner asked in a rare floor speech. “The longer the White House slow-walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff.”

Boehner and Obama met Sunday at the White House to discuss the fiscal-cliff package, but the Speaker's remarks Tuesday suggest the sides remain far from an agreement.

Hoyer said Boehner's criticism was "disappointing" and "not particularly helpful" to the process of reaching a deal before January. He noted that Obama has been clear about the tax increases the Democrats want in the package, and called on Republicans to be equally as specific about the spending cuts they support.

"The construct is pretty simple: The president of the United States said we need more revenues. The Speaker of the House and the Republicans have said you need less spending. OK, fine, those are the parameters," Hoyer said.

"The Republicans keep saying they're not making progress because the president hasn't put spending cuts on the table," he added. "Spending cuts are their suggestion – put them on the table. Revenue raising is the president's [suggestion] – he has put it on the table."

The White House launched the talks late last month with a proposal that includes $1.6 trillion in new revenues and $400 billion in new entitlement cuts — though not benefit cuts — over the next decade.

Boehner countered a few days later with a $2.2 trillion package featuring $800 billion in new tax revenue and $1.4 trillion in cuts, largely unidentified, to discretionary and entitlement programs.

Both sides have rejected the other's initial proposal.

Hoyer said Tuesday that there's "no secret" why the GOP's proposed spending cuts are short on specifics: "They don't want to take responsibility for them," he charged.

ADVERTISEMENT
"The Republicans will say the Democrats are responsible for raising your taxes. I understand that, and the president's prepared to take that responsibility and some of the rest of us are prepared to take that responsibility," Hoyer said. "But they [Republicans] are not prepared, at this point in time, to take responsibility for the cuts that they say they want. Outline them."

Some Republicans — notably Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — have floated a handful of specific entitlement cuts they'd like to see in the fiscal-cliff package, including proposals to raise Medicare's eligibility age, require wealthier seniors to pay higher Medicare rates and reduce inflationary hikes to Social Security payments. But Boehner and House GOP leaders purposefully kept such specifics out of their counteroffer to Obama.

"Mindful of the status quo election and past exchanges on these questions," they wrote to the president last week, "we recognize it would be counterproductive to publicly or privately propose entitlement reforms that you and the leaders of your party appear unwilling to support in the near term."

Hoyer decried that strategy Tuesday, saying it's impossible to negotiate a deal without specifics.

"If that's what the Republicans want to propose then they ought to propose it — not just have it float," Hoyer said. "The Republicans would prefer not to propose those. They like them floating in the air and taking some credit for them, but they don't want to propose it because they don't want to take responsibility for them. Let 'em take responsibility."

Hoyer said Tuesday that all of McConnell's proposed entitlement cuts should be on the table, even as he suggested he might not support them.

"I agree that everything's on the table, but that doesn't mean we're for everything," he warned, adding that "some of those are not advisable."

"We need to protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare," he said.

Hoyer was quick to note that he's not a principal negotiator in the talks, suggesting that he's been left largely in the dark about developments.

"I wish I knew more than you did about the negotiations," he said. "I don't."