House Speaker John Boehner’s demand Tuesday that the next increase in the debt limit be accompanied by dollar-for-dollar “cuts and reforms” apparently comes with a caveat: It doesn’t apply to the GOP budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Ryan’s House-passed blueprint would increase the nation’s debt by $5 trillion over a decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The plan has the strong support of congressional Republicans and conservatives.
“I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase,” Boehner said during a speech in Washington. “This is the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance.”
CNN’s Erin Burnett, interviewing Boehner Tuesday after his speech, confronted him about the contradiction.
“Yeah, the big bad House Republican budget that would just gut everything under the sun, according to my friends across the aisle, would still require a $5 trillion increase in the debt ceiling over the next 10 years,” Boehner said. “Why? Because of the great big demographic bubble — baby boomers like me, that are going to retire and continue to retire for the next 20-25 years. It’s a big challenge.”
In fact, the Ryan budget includes large tax cuts that would bring about a $4.6 trillion reduction in federal revenues, according to the Tax Policy Center. The plan’s deep cuts to domestic and safety-net programs would, however, significantly reduce the debt.
CBO projects that by radically reshaping the size and scope of government, Ryan’s plan would pay off the nation’s debt by 2040. Ryan has promised to close tax loopholes to help bridge the revenue shortfall, although he has declined to specify any. Even so, using a 30-year window, which by itself is rife with problems, elides Boehner’s demand that raising the nation’s credit card limit be offset with near-term dollar-for-dollar savings.
The dilemma exposes an important but somewhat obscured aspect of the Republican fiscal agenda: It’s not ultimately about deficit reduction. Although deficits have been a GOP messaging priority in the Obama era, when push comes to shove the party has routinely preferred to cut taxes rather than pay off the nation’s debt.
Watch Boehner below:
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.