The United States will not default on its obligations, but must reduce spending at the same time it raises its debt limit, House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday.
Suggesting that lawmakers are willing to uncouple the debt ceiling from the spending debate so that the U.S. doesn't default on its loans, Boehner said the Republican-led House will demand that an increase in the debt limit is met with changes to the budget process so that Washington's spending spree "never happens again."
"If the president is going to ask us to increase the debt limit, then he's going to have to be willing to cut up the credit cards," he said. "I think our team has been listening to the American people. They want to us reduce spending, and there is no limit to the amount of spending we're willing to cut."
But Boehner said suggestions that the U.S. go into default are a non-starter.
"That would be a financial disaster not only for our country, but for the worldwide economy," he said. "You can't create jobs if you default on the federal debt."
In order for the debt ceiling to rise, Congress must approve taking on more debt, which currently is growing by more than $4 billion per day. If it doesn't approve raising the ceiling, then the U.S. will default on its loans and lose its standing as the globe's most reliable bet.
Congress is also grappling with a budget for the federal government, which is operating on last year's numbers since Congress never approved a budget for the 2011 federal fiscal year that spans Oct. 1-Sept. 30. During the lame duck session after last year's midterm election, lawmakers agreed to allow the 2010 spending levels to persist into March, at about the same time the U.S. bumps the debt ceiling.
Meanwhile, President Obama is expected to release his fiscal year 2012 budget proposal on Feb. 14, the same week Republicans plan to bring up for a House vote a budget proposal for the rest of the current fiscal year.
In that budget, Republicans won't insist on across-the-board cuts, Boehner said, but the House Appropriations Committee will target reductions at big-ticket items like eliminating remaining stimulus spending, ending the bank bailout, getting the federal government out of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and repealing the health insurance law signed by President Obama last year.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," said the president should not expect to get a budget signed similar to the one he will submit.
"Our annual deficit is completely out of control. We're gonna send the president a lot less -- we're going to allow him to sign on to a lot less spending than he recommended the other night and is likely to send us in the budget," he said.
In a jab at unnamed predecessors, Boehner added that the amendment process will be open so that everyone will have a say.
"I'm the speaker of the House -- speaker of the whole House. My job is not to do what's been done in the past and that's to dictate what members will get to vote on. We will allow the House to work its will and we will," he said.
The speaker said he's also willing to have a conversation about entitlements though that's hard to do when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says Social Security is solvent. Congressional budgeters this week announced Social Security accounts will no longer be in the black again if current income and payout levels are maintained.
"If we can't get Senate Democrats and their leader to recognize that we've got real problems, I don't know how we begin to move down this path of having this adult conversation that I'd like to have and I, frankly, like the president would like to have," Boehner said.
"We know Medicare is on an unsustained path; they took a half-a-trillion dollars out of it to fund this health care program that they enacted," McConnell added.
Boehner said Americans are waiting for Congress to look them in the eye and be honest about how bad the problem is.
"Once that happens, we can begin to talk about an array of possible solutions. And have that conversation. Then begin to develop a plan of what's doable to address the long-term concerns that we have in these entitlement programs," he said.