- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2011

Making a “read-my-lips” promise, Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday that House Republicans will produce a budget this year that reins in entitlements and cuts spending, upping the ante on President Obama, who declined to tackle those long-term fiscal problems in the budget he sent to Congress on Monday.

The GOP budget “will chart a new path toward prosperity and address our fiscal challenges, including entitlement spending,” Mr. Boehner said, accusing the president of submitting a budget that “punts on the tough choices.”

The Ohio Republican even hinted that his troops will hold a separate vote on “wasteful mandatory spending,” or entitlements, even before the House takes up a full budget.

His comments come as the battle over government spending levels heats up on all fronts: Congress still must finish the overdue 2011 spending bills that Democrats left undone last year, even as lawmakers already have turned one eye to the 2012 budget debate, which began in earnest this week.

Mr. Obama’s budget blueprint relies on a mix of spending limits and tax increases to lower, but not eliminate, the deficit by the middle of this decade. The president, though, did not suggest any ways to rein in the ballooning long-term costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, by far the biggest contributors to the federal debt.

Mr. Obama said his budget was just an opening bid in what promises to be a lengthy debate and said Republicans must show they are serious about working on entitlements before he will join them at the table.

The budget debate will play out over the next several months, but both sides have a more immediate spending fight: the 2011 spending bills, with Congress and the White House facing a deadline of early March to act to keep the government from shutting down.

The House is in the middle of debate on a massive spending bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30. House Republicans have proposed cutting more than $60 billion from 2010 spending levels.

But Democrats argue those cuts run too deep, and the White House on Tuesday said Mr. Obama would veto the GOP bill, saying it hurts education and the economy and fails to fund key defense needs.

Mr. Obama’s budget director told reporters Thursday that administration officials don’t have a firm spending target in mind, but Mr. Obama will only sign a bill he believes doesn’t hurt his priorities.

“I don’t want to say flat-out that there’s a number, and in fact that statement was not written in way that drew a line on a number. It really drew a line on the consequences,” said Jacob “Jack” Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget. “There has to be a boundary, and if a bill crosses the line the president has indicated, that’s a problem.”

House GOP leaders said they will pass their cuts bill by the end of this week, but the Senate, where Democrats still have a small majority, would then have to act.

The current stopgap spending measure runs out March 4, and with Congress taking a weeklong vacation next week, it’s unlikely the Senate will be able to make that deadline.

So both sides are already making contingency plans for another short-term bill, probably to last just a few weeks.

But Mr. Boehner said that bill, too, will have to have some spending cuts.

“Our goal here is to cut spending,” Mr. Boehner told reporters Thursday morning. “I am not going to move any kind of short-term [spending bill] at current levels.”

For emphasis, he then added: “When we say we’re going to cut spending, read my lips: We’re going to cut spending.”

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, called that a “take it or leave it” approach and said if Republicans insist on imposing cuts it will lead to an impasse, and the government will shut down.

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