Boehner says big debt deal not possible

Tribune Washington Bureau

House Speaker John A. Boehner said late Saturday that a major deal to slash spending and raise the federal debt ceiling is not possible with the White House insistence on tax increases, and he suggested after a phone call with President Obama that a “smaller measure” be pursued.

Boehner’s position effectively ends the chance for grand bargain to cut as much as $4 trillion from federal deficits and comes on the eve of Sunday’s debt reduction talks at the White House. Congress and the president have been trying to forge a reduction package in exchange for a vote to raise the nation’s debt limit by Aug. 2.

“Despite good-faith efforts to find common ground, the White House will not pursue a bigger debt reduction agreement without tax hikes,” Boehner said. “I believe the best approach may be to focus on producing a smaller measure, based on the cuts identified in the Biden-led negotiations, that still meets our call for spending reforms and cuts greater than the amount of any debt limit increase.”

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said in a statement on Saturday night that Obama is not giving up on a major deal to reduce deficits.


“Both parties have made real progress thus far, and to back off now will not only fail to solve our fiscal challenge, it will confirm the cynicism people have about politics in Washington,” Pfeiffer wrote. “The President believes that now is the moment to rise above that cynicism and show the American people that we can still do big things. And so tomorrow, he will make the case to congressional leaders that we must reject the politics of least resistance and take on this critical challenge.”

Yet while touting progress in the talks, the White House statement also acknowledged the deadlock that has persisted throughout the debt debate: The Republicans want spending cuts only, while the Democrats say such an approach is too severe and favor cuts balanced with increased revenue achieved by closing tax loopholes and reducing tax breaks for the wealthy.

Obama is determined to address the U.S. fiscal problems, the statement said, but believes “we cannot ask the middle-class and seniors to bear all the burden of higher costs and budget cuts. We need a balanced approach that asks the very wealthiest and special interests to pay their fair share as well, and we believe the American people agree.”