- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2011

Drawing a line on how far Republicans are willing to go in raising the nation’s debt limit, House Speaker John A. Boehner said Monday that any increase must be accompanied by an even bigger cut in spending.

Speaking to the Economic Club of New York, Mr. Boehner repeatedly accused Washington politicians of “arrogance” in letting the debt accumulate, and said cuts should total trillions of dollars. He also said the cuts will need to be specific, rather than vague targets to be fleshed out later.

“Without significant spending cuts and reforms to reduce our debt, there will be no debt limit increase,” he said. “And the cuts should be greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority the president is given.”

Mr. Boehner said it would be “arrogant” to raise the debt ceiling without also trying to rein in future spending, and said continued spending spawned the tea party rebellion that helped power Republicans to control of the House in last year’s elections.

The White House, though, has called for a “clean” debt ceiling increase, arguing that businesses will balk if they think there is a chance the government would default on its debt.

Gross debt stood at $14.322 trillion on Friday, the most recent day for which the government has released figures, and was flirting with hitting the ceiling, though Treasury Department officials said they can use various techniques to delay topping the limit for several months.

President Obama has tapped Vice President Joseph R. Biden to lead a group of lawmakers trying to hash out a deal to raise the debt limit, and their first meeting last week ended on an optimistic note as both sides seemed to narrow the scope of issues on the table.

“It may be the case that all of these issues do not get resolved in these negotiations, but a number of them can. If we find common ground on those issues where we agree, we can achieve significant further deficit reduction - a good thing - and then if there are other issues that remain unresolved, we’ll deal with them when there is the environment that’s conducive to dealing with them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday.

Some House Republican leaders had signaled last week that they will not push for action to rein in Medicare, which is one of the biggest drivers of long-term spending. Mr. Boehner, though, said that “everything is on the table,” with the sole exception of tax increases.

The tax rate debate has raged since Mr. Obama took office on a campaign promise of raising personal income tax rates on the wealthy back to where they were during the Clinton administration.

Last year, Republicans and Mr. Obama cut a deal to extend President Bush’s rates for another two years, while also extending unemployment benefits.

Mr. Obama has said he will not allow another extension of the upper-income tax cuts, but Mr. Boehner said that amounts to a tax increase.

“My colleagues and I are not calling for tax cuts in our budget. Rather, we’re calling for an end to the threat of tax hikes - and a fundamental reform of the tax code - to provide certainty to those in our country who create jobs,” he said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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