Boehner Holds Firm on Shutdown and Debt Ceiling
Policy + Politics

Boehner Holds Firm on Shutdown and Debt Ceiling

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

House Speaker John Boehner vowed not to retreat on the shutdown or the debt ceiling. 

It may be a brilliant tactical move, a total suicide mission, or an empty threat before an eventual retreat. But the Ohio congressman definitely deflated any hopes that the partial shutdown—almost a weeklong—will end soon, saying in an interview broadcast Sunday with ABC News’ “This Week,” “It is time for us to stand and fight.”

Boehner even predicted that the nation wasn’t on the path to avoid a catastrophic default, unless President Obama surrendered to his demands that the budget conform to the GOP agenda in order to lift the government’s borrowing authority.

"We're not going to pass a clean debt limit increase," Boehner said. "I told the president, there's no way we're going to pass one. The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit. And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us.”


Obama has refused to negotiate with House Republicans over temporarily reopening the government or deliver any concessions for raising the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling by the middle of this month to avert a default. The breakdown appears so thorough that the White House has equated Boehner to kidnapper who is holding the entire economy hostage.

Boehner claimed that his caucus is still united against passing a “clean” continuing resolution to reopen the government. He insists—despite signs to the contrary from pragmatists inside his own party—that Obamacare must be stopped in order to end the shutdown. The speaker suggested that his entire party—and not just Tea Partiers—are behind this move, despite protests by GOP fundraisers.

“[I] and my members decided the threat of Obamacare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand. And we took a stand,” Boehner said. “And you've never seen a more dedicated group of people who are thoroughly concerned about the future of our country. They believe that Obamacare, all these regulations coming out of the administration, are threatening the future for our kids and our grandkids.”

These are all tough words, but it’s worth considering the contradictory statements coming out of the Republican camp before anyone starts hyperventilating.

Boehner reportedly told Republican congressmen last week that he would prevent a default on the debt by working with Democrats, according to The New York Times. So the Times and other outlets were misinformed, or Boehner is bluffing, or the top elected Republican official has changed his mind and may do so again.

The Obama administration has yet to show any signs of flexibility in its opposition to negotiations over a continuing resolution and the debt ceiling. It fears that Republicans can essentially extort Democrats for cuts any time a spending bill needs to be passed—which is likely to happen before the end of the year even if a deal is put in place. Polling indicates that voters are siding with Obama.

But more importantly, Boehner has consistently been wrong in his public statements about GOP strategy. He promised the country that the House would pass his Fiscal Cliff “Plan B” last year—which raised tax rates on incomes above $1 million—only to find that it lacked support within his own caucus. His leadership team has made similar boasts about bills, only to pull them from a floor vote because they lacked support.

But the best sign of why it’s worth putting an asterisk on anything that Boehner said came from ABC News itself. Shortly after the 2012 election, Boehner told them in an interview that he would not tie Obamacare to any continuing resolution.

“Obamacare is the law of the land,” he said at the time. “If we were to put Obamacare into the CR and send it over to the Senate, we were risking shutting down the government. That is not our goal.”

The speaker claims that Republicans don’t want to shutdown the government, but it’s hard to argue based on Boehner’s statements that they weren’t willing to do so. In a sense, Boehner’s entire strategy depends on Obama losing his grit at the last second. The speaker suggested that the president should negotiate his way out of the gridlock by agreeing to cuts in Social Security and Medicare, even though Republicans are unwilling to raise taxes—per the Democratic request—in return.

Even though Boehner is at the center of this drama, he knows about as much as how it will end as anyone else in the country. The Ohio congressman has no idea. “If I knew,” he said Sunday, “I would tell you.”