Boehner digs in for next battle on debt

House Speaker will insist on spending cuts

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House Speaker John A. Boehner on Tuesday set the stage for an end-of-year debt showdown, saying he will once again insist any increase in the federal borrowing limit be matched dollar-for-dollar with spending cuts elsewhere.

The last time he made that vow — ahead of last August’s debt deadline — the government teetered on the brink of a partial shutdown before he and President Obama agreed to a deal that matched an immediate debt boost to possible future spending cuts.

Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he considers that deal a precedent, and from now on every request for more debt will have to be accompanied by an equal cut in spending.

“It is a line in the sand,” he said. “As long as I’m around here, I believe that line in the sand will be here.”

The Obama administration pushed back, saying it was irresponsible to put conditions on the government’s borrowing.

“We hope they do it this time without the drama and the pain and the damage they caused the country last July,” Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said.

Days after that last battle, one of the top ratings agencies downgraded U.S. debt from its AAA rating to AA+ — a move each party blamed on the other.

The debt limit stands at $16.394 trillion, which was the top level set in August’s deal. As of Monday, the government’s tab was $15.632 trillion, leaving it still more than $700 billion shy.

Mr. Geithner said that while the government will close that gap at the end of this year, he has tools available to delay breaching the limit until sometime next year, which could push the debt fight out of a lame-duck session of Congress already expected to be crowded with fights over expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and the automatic spending cuts left in place by the last debt deal.

Even if Mr. Geithner can delay, debt is bound to be part of the presidential campaign.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, speaking in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, said “a prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation.”

The White House fired back that Mr. Romney’s own tax-cut plans would leave the nation deeper in debt, too. Mr. Obama has called for tax increases to reduce the deficit.

Running out of time

With a new debt battle added to an already crowded legislative calendar, some Democrats said they’re skeptical about Congress getting much done the rest of the year.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Republicans haven’t scheduled enough work days for the chamber.

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