- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2012

House Speaker John A. Boehner said he’s not optimistic Congress will be able to steer clear of the “fiscal cliff” looming at year’s end, blaming the Senate and White House for failing to work House Republicans on drafting a plan.

Lawmakers of both parties are eager to avoid $1.2 trillion in “sequestration” spending cuts — about half targeting the Pentagon — scheduled to kick in January 2013. And there is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for extending tax cuts initiated during President George W. Bush’s administration set to expire at the same time, though the parties disagree on whether the benefit should be extended to the nation’s wealthiest.

But when asked during a Tuesday morning event if he thought Congress and the White House could broker a deal on the issues, Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, responded, “I’m not confident at all.”

Mr. Boehner said his chamber “has done its job” by passing legislation that would replace the sequester cuts and prevent the Bush-era tax cuts from expiring, and blamed Democrats who control the Senate and President Obama for lacking the political stomach to tackle the issue.

He said sequestration would “hollow out our military” with “mindless cuts,” although he agreed to the plan last year.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said there’s a “lack of leadership in this administration” for failing to take the lead on finding ways to avoid the sequestration cuts targeting the military.

The sequester “is an issue affecting our ability to defend this country,” he said. “The president should be called upon, asked what is his plan?”

The sequestration cuts were agreed to as part of last summer’s bipartisan debt and budget agreement that allowed the White House to raise the debt ceiling. The political unpalatable cuts were intended to be used as a carrot to motivate lawmakers to come up with a grand plan to significantly reduce the nation’s ballooning debt. But there haven’t been meaningful negotiations on the issue since the failure last autumn of the congressional “supercommittee.”

Meanwhile, Moody’s Investor Service warned Tuesday it likely will downgrade the federal government’s AAA credit rating unless Congress and the White House deal with the nation’s debt problems.