- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2013

Republicans presented a united front on debt and taxes Sunday, ruling out tax increases as a way of reaching a “grand bargain” on the budget despite President Obama’s recent efforts to pour on the charm.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, declared Sunday that any talk of raising taxes in order to reduce the $16 trillion debt was “over,” insisting that the looming crisis would need to be solved with spending cuts.

“The president got his tax hikes on Jan. 1,” said Mr. Boehner on ABC’s “This Week.” “The talk about raising revenue is over. It’s time to deal with the spending problem.”

Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday” that his party would be interested in discussing tax reform, including closing loopholes, but not tax increases.

“I think Republicans, if they saw true entitlement reform, would be glad to look at tax reform that generates additional revenue. And that doesn’t mean increasing rates. That means closing loopholes,” said Mr. Corker. “It also means arranging our tax system so that we have economic growth. And I think we have been saying that from Day One.”

The Republican comments come after a week of President Obama’s “charm offensive,” in which he sat down with Republican and Democratic legislators for meetings and dinner in order to build relationships as Congress wrestles with the budget.

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At the same time, Mr. Obama downplayed the importance of a balanced budget in an ABC interview Tuesday, saying that the budget would not be balanced in 10 years and that his goal is to “grow the economy,” not “to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance.”

Placing economic growth ahead of debt reduction has since become a talking point for Democrats. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, reiterated the message Sunday, saying, “make sure we have deficit reduction, but don’t cut too much, too fast.”

“What the president is pointing to is this: We need strong economic recovery. We need to put Americans back to work. That’s our first priority,” said Mr. Durbin on “Fox News Sunday.” “Deficit reduction, I would put as the second priority, and one that is coupled with economic growth.”

Mr. Boehner argued that the two goals are inextricably linked, saying that “balancing the budget will in fact help our economy, it will help create jobs in our country.”

“The fact that government continues to spend more than $1 trillion every year that it doesn’t have scares investors, scares business people, makes them less willing to hire people,” said Mr. Boehner.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, said she worried that cutting government spending would have the opposite effect, pointing to the uptick in the housing market and lower unemployment figures as signs that the economy is improving.

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“We don’t want to do anything to set us back when we’re finally seeing some stability and growth in the economy,” said Ms. Klobuchar on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We don’t want to cause what [Federal Reserve] Chairman Ben Bernanke has called a sharp contraction in the economy.”

Asked if they agreed that there is no immediate debt crisis, as Mr. Obama has said, House Republicans agreed — but added that it’s only a matter of time.

“We do not have an immediate debt crisis. But we all know that we have one looming, and we have one looming because we have entitlement programs that are not sustainable in their current form,” said Mr. Boehner. “They’re going to go bankrupt.”

Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, compared the U.S. debt situation with being “the healthiest-looking horse in the glue factory.”

“So we do not have a debt crisis right now, but we see it coming. We know it’s irrefutably happening, and the point we’re trying to make with our budget is, let’s get ahead of this problem,” said Mr. Ryan on “Face the Nation.” “If we keep kicking the can down the road, if we follow the president’s lead or if we pass the Senate budget, then we will have a debt crisis.”

House Republicans released last week a budget, helmed by Mr. Ryan, that would cut $4.6 trillion over 10 years, all through spending reductions, while Senate Democrats are working on a plan that includes $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

Both sides agreed there was reason for optimism about reaching a compromise. “At least the Senate’s doing something now,” said Mr. Ryan, a reference to the Senate’s inability to pass a budget for the past four years.

“Hopefully we can go to conference on these budgets, and hope springs eternal in my mind,” said Mr. Boehner.

Ms. Klobuchar called it an “exciting time” and “a great time of opportunity” to reach agreement on a budget deal.

“I think there’s a real urgency in Washington, particularly in the Senate, that I’ve never seen before,” she said.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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