As America braces for austerity, the top Republicans in Congress spoke about ways to rein in public spending on Sunday morning. The new Speaker of the House, John Boehner sat down with Fox News Sunday while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky appeared on Meet the Press.
The Congressional Budget Office released its most recent figures on the country’s fiscal crisis this week, forecasting that up to the year 2021, the federal government will continue to run deficits and grow the national debt.
The deficit is set to reach $1.5 trillion this year alone, equaling nearly 10 percent of GDP. By the end of this fiscal year, the debt will have increased to 70 percent of gross domestic product. If no significant spending reductions are made, it could grow up to 100 percent by the end of the decade.
President Barack Obama addressed the reality in his State of the Union speech this week but other than a ban on congressional earmarks and a five year freeze in discretionary domestic spending, which accounts for barely $400 billion of the total budget, he proposed few spending reductions. He called for increased investment in education and infrastructure rather to enhance American competitiveness.
McConnell was “disappointed” with the president’s unwillingness to address America’s looming entitlement disaster yet Republicans haven’t fully endorsed plans to reform Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security either even as they account for a third of all federal expenditures.
The reason, said McConnell on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, was that entitlement reform should be a bipartisan effort. “I think the president needs to be more bold,” he suggested. “We’re happy to sit down and talk about entitlement reform with the president.”
On Fox News Sunday, the new Speaker of the House was all the more audacious. While McConnell referred to the upcoming vote on raising the federal debt ceiling as an “opportunity,” Boehner said that the American people would not “tolerate” an increase in the debt limit “without serious reductions in spending and changes to the budget process so that we can make sure that this never happens again.”
The country will not default on its obligations though. That, according to the Ohio congressman, would be “a financial disaster not only for our country, but for the worldwide economy.” He added that it would be nigh impossible to create jobs under such circumstances.
Should Congress refuse to raise the debt ceiling, it would technically herald the bankruptcy of the United States and threaten the stability of the dollar, the world’s main reserve currency.
In order to rein in federal spending, Boehner said that while Republicans won’t push for cuts across the board, items as the health insurance mandate, stimulus funding and mortgage subsidies have to go.
On the matter of entitlements, Boehner, like McConnell, called on the president to lead — especially in his own party. With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denying that Social Security is even in trouble, Boehner said he didn’t know “how we begin to move down the path of having this adult conversation that I’d like to have and I, frankly, like the president would like to have.”