House Speaker John Boehner said Monday that he was gearing up for “a whale of a fight” with President Obama over raising the federal debt ceiling, even though Obama has repeatedly said he has no plans to negotiate with congressional Republicans over the nation’s debt limit and wants it lifted without a political showdown.
At an Idaho fundraiser for Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican and close ally, Boehner said he planned to use the need to raise the debt ceiling to gain political leverage and demand “cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit.”
“The president doesn’t think this is fair, thinks I’m being difficult to deal with,” Boehner said in his remarks, reported by The Idaho Statesman. “But I’ll say this: It may be unfair, but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”
Boehner’s comments came as Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew warned him in a letter on Monday that unless Congress raised the debt ceiling, the government would lose the ability to pay all of its bills in mid-October.
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“Congress should act as soon as possible to protect America’s good credit by extending normal borrowing authority well before any risk of default becomes imminent,” Lew wrote. “Based on our latest estimates, extraordinary measures are projected to be exhausted in the middle of October. At that point, the United States will have reached the limit of its borrowing authority, and Treasury would be left to fund the government with only the cash we have on hand any given day.”
The Obama administration has said repeatedly that it will not allow congressional Republicans to use the debt limit to wring concessions from the White House, similar to the fiscal showdown that occurred at the end of last year. The Federal Reserve has warned that political brinkmanship over the debt ceiling could hamper the economic recovery.
“Let me reiterate what our position is, and it is unequivocal,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said Monday. “We will not negotiate with Republicans in Congress over Congress’ responsibility to pay the bills that Congress has racked up, period.”
On Tuesday, Lew reiterated the administration’s stance in an interview with CNBC. “The president has been very clear. We are not going to be negotiating over the debt limit,” Lew said. “Congress has already authorized funding, committed us to make expenditures. We are now in the place where the only question is: Will we pay the bills the United States has incurred?”
Michael Steel, a spokesman to Boehner, said the speaker had long espoused a policy of spending cuts tied to an increase in the debt ceiling. “The speaker’s comments are consistent,” he said. “Any increase in the debt limit must be accompanied by cuts and reforms greater than the increase.”
The Democratic Policy and Communications Center immediately criticized Boehner, asking in a blog post on Tuesday: “Will Speaker Boehner sink U.S. economy with ‘whale of a fight’ over debt ceiling?”
The answer, at least according to Boehner, was that a fight was imminent.
“I wish I could tell you it was going to be pretty and polite, and it would all be finished a month before we’d ever get to the debt ceiling. Sorry, it just doesn’t work that way,” Boehner said at the fundraiser. “If this were easy to do, somebody over the last 20 or 30 years would have gotten it done. We’re going to do it this fall.”