Published February 12, 2013
House Speaker John Boehner, in advance of President Obama's State of the Union address, said Tuesday that he doesn't think the president "has the guts" to seriously address the country's debt and deficit.
The speaker aired his concerns during a breakfast outside his office on Capitol Hill with anchors and reporters covering Obama's address Tuesday night.
He said he's pessimistic about the odds the president will tackle the country's long-term spending problem, which he sees as the biggest threat to America's future.
"I don't think he has the guts to do it. He doesn't have the courage to take on the liberal side of his own party -- never has," Boehner said.
The speaker said, judging by the tone and tenor of the inaugural address, "I would expect tonight to be more partisan."
Throughout the breakfast, Boehner referenced the across-the-board spending cuts originally designed to be so unappealing that both sides would agree to a deal to avoid them. So far, lawmakers have not figured out a way to avert them, with the latest deadline set for March 1.
The cuts are known in Washington as the "sequester." Boehner, though, called it "the president's sequester."
Pressed on the negative impacts to the economy if these cuts happen, Boehner said, "I don't like the sequester. I don't want the sequester. But, this spending issue is the biggest issue that threatens our future. "
"When are we going to get serious about our long-term spending problem?" he asked. "When is the president going to propose something instead of the sequester? How about Senate Democrats?"
He conceded the economy may take a hit initially but added, "If the private sector were to see that we were serious about dealing with our spending problem in Washington, that might instill some confidence."
Obama has urged Congress to craft a short-term bridge bill to avert the cuts if lawmakers cannot come up with a long-term plan in the next few weeks. But asked Tuesday about Congress voting again to delay the date the sequester kicks in, Boehner said, "We're not moving it."
Boehner insisted that whatever package comes forward, it must not have new taxes in it.
"The president's gotten his revenue. Period," Boehner said, referring to tax rate hikes on top earners enacted in the fiscal crisis deal. Pressed again, Boehner repeated, "The president's gotten his revenue."
He said a solution will only happen if the president and Senate Democrats act.
This comes as Senate Democrats are signaling that they will move forward with something to address the looming cuts in coming days. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office released remarks he is scheduled to make on the Senate floor on Tuesday saying, "Senate Democrats will offer our own solution to the sequester later this week."
Asked about what is expected to be Obama's calls for new "investment" Tuesday night, Boehner said, "More government spending is what that is."
"If government spending were the tonic for all our ills, this would have been solved a long time ago," he said. Boehner said the president added "$5 trillion in new debt over the last four years. How much further is he going to run us into the sewer?"
Boehner said he talked to the president at the inauguration but, "This White House does not engage much with Congress."
And on the politics for Democrats, Boehner said, "It almost appears the president wants to put moderate Democrats on the line -- to shine a light on the fact they are not as liberal as some others. The Obama-Pelosi agenda is not going to help those members."
When the topic turned to immigration reform, one correspondent started a question with a litany of specifics about a path to citizenship and Boehner responded with, "Slow down. How about a little foreplay. Lots of issues need to be resolved before we get to that."
But Boehner insisted the House and Senate have "to come to some agreement on immigration. It's an issue we have to deal with and deal with now."
He added that a group of Republicans and Democrats have been working on a bipartisan solution for more than four years and said he is optimistic
He said his biggest fear in the context of that debate is Obama. "Sometimes I think he'd rather have an issue rather than a solution," Boehner said.
Boehner touted Republicans "fact-checking" the president's speech Tuesday night and sending that out on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms.
He also touted the planned Spanish translation of Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican response. Before the breakfast was finished, Rubio made a cameo appearance to "get a cup of coffee" -- which he ended up getting in the room next door.
Asked if he was nervous, Rubio said, "Not yet."