CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Sept. 14, 2011 – 8:43 p.m.
Boehner Speech May Set Tone for Jobs Debate
By Richard E. Cohen and Sam Goldfarb, CQ Staff
The economic address House Speaker
Boehner, R-Ohio, is expected to outline his alternative to the jobs package President Obama proposed last week. Despite an evenhanded initial response from GOP leaders, that plan is attracting opposition from rank-and-file Republicans.
It will not be the first time that Boehner, as the leader of the House Republican majority, has set the terms for a major economic debate. His speech last spring to a gathering of economists in New York laid out the GOP’s ultimately successful campaign for spending cuts amounting to at least as much as any increase in the national debt limit. After months of partisan debate, Congress and Obama enacted a debt limit and deficit reduction package (PL 112-25) in August that capped discretionary spending and established a joint congressional committee to find additional savings.
The legislative challenge facing Boehner and the political stakes involved may now be even greater. With a stagnant economy and persistent unemployment stirring voter anxiety, the Speaker needs to offer a credible, if not necessarily specific, alternative to Obama’s economic strategy. The president has already taken his plan on the road in an attempt to build support for his demand that Republicans allow his legislation to move through Congress.
Lawmakers will be watching particularly closely to see if Boehner, during his speech to the Economic Club of Washington, clarifies his position on Obama’s proposed extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut. Extending that one-year economic stimulus measure is viewed as one the few potential areas of bipartisan agreement on tax and spending issues.
House Majority Leader
Boehner has been more reluctant than Cantor to endorse short-term measures to prompt hiring, even if those policies involve cutting taxes. Instead, the Speaker has argued for reducing the budget deficit.
Boehner’s rejection of spending to stimulate the economy has generally been well received among the Republican rank-and-file. Breaking with that strategy carries risks, but there is also political risk in opposing the president’s plan as Obama travels around the nation promoting its benefits.
But House Republicans believe they have a good case to make against Obama, economically and politically. “After the president’s bus tour last month ended in my district, we awaited the results with anticipation. But over half of his money is for continuing two current programs. That is the definition of insanity,” said
But since hearing voters rail in August against the gridlock in Congress, Republican leaders have made a concerted effort to strike a more conciliatory tone than they offered during the protracted debate over raising the debt ceiling.
Willing to Take On the President
In a seemingly cooperative spirit, Boehner last week directed committee chairmen to examine aspects of the president’s jobs bill under their jurisdiction. Despite the leaders’ early suggestions that they would try to find common ground with the president, rank-and-file Republicans have taken a more skeptical view of prospects for bipartisan economic policy.
Obama has proposed roughly $240 billion in tax reductions, more than half the $447 billion cost of his package (
Boehner Speech May Set Tone for Jobs Debate
Obama is essentially daring the GOP to oppose tax cuts for middle-income families. But Republicans have come up with several political and policy arguments against the payroll tax cut extension and the rest of the president’s plan. Republicans criticize the administration’s proposal to pay for tax cuts with revenue increases, including tax hikes for upper-income taxpayers and curtailing of some business tax benefits. Republicans also argue that a temporary extension of the payroll tax cut would have limited impact on economy and would rob the Social Security trust fund.
Despite some misgivings about Obama’s plan, most Democrats appear ready to support it and use it as a political weapon against Republicans.
“When people get less money in their paycheck next January, they will notice it,” said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Minority Leader
Still, growing unease among liberal Democrats is focused on how Obama plans to pay for his proposal. On Thursday, a White House official is slated to meet with Senate Democrats to lay out the particulars of the president’s plan.
Still, Tiberi described the current situation as “fluid.” And like many other Republicans, he stopped short of vowing to vote against a new payroll tax cut. “I understand that we have a president in the White House who doesn’t philosophically have the same [beliefs] that I have, so I understand we have to work together,” he said.
But the House Republican majority has not always followed a conventional political playbook. For now, they want to focus on the limited success the president’s economic policies have had in creating jobs. They are likely to demand a price for support of any additional stimulus measures.
Boehner’s speech may signal the course he thinks his party should steer to improve the economy and achieve its political objectives on the eve of an election year.