House Speaker John Boehner is not optimistic Congress and the president will reach a deal to avert massive federal budget reductions as thousands of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base workers face potential furloughs if automatic spending cuts start March 1.
“I’m not the most optimistic guy when it comes to whether this will go into effect,” said Boehner, R-West Chester Twp. “But there’s no reason for this (sequester) to happen.”
Boehner toured Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in downtown Middletown on Monday, one day before President Barack Obama lays out his agenda for the beginning of his second term in a State of the Union address to Congress. You can watch the State of the Union live on WHIO-TV Channel 7 starting at 9 p.m. Also, you can listen live at NewstalkRadio WHIO 95.7 FM and AM 1290 and it will stream online live at www.newstalkradiowhio.com. Our political team will also have live updates on Twitter at @Ohio_Politics.
On Monday, the speaker met behind closed doors with business and economic leaders, toured classrooms and spoke to students on a return visit to his home 8th District, which includes Butler, Clark, Preble, Miami, Darke and part of Mercer counties.
Democrats and Republicans have blamed the each other for the inability to reach common ground to avert sequestration. Automatic spending cuts of more than $1 trillion over a decade to both defense and domestic spending programs would begin without a deal. Lawmakers postponed the reductions for two months Jan. 1 in a deal that raised taxes on the wealthy. Spending cuts could mean everything from a sharp decline in military readiness to fewer air traffic controllers and food inspectors on the job to thousands of fewer students enrolled in Headstart, an education program for pre-schoolers.
The talks in Washington are of high importance to the Miami Valley because up to 13,000 civilian workers at Wright-Patterson may face 22-day furloughs without a budget agreement in hand. Many other local workers including defense contractors will also be impacted.
“While it’s a little grim here in the short term if we’re able to come to some agreement, it’ll allow the Department of Defense to have a much clearer picture of what their funding levels are going to be over the long term,” Boehner said in an exclusive interview.
The key to averting the automatic cuts is for the president and Senate Democrats to offer an alternative after the Republican-controlled House twice passed sequestration replacement bills last year, Boehner said. Democrats have criticized the Republican proposal for favoring defense spending while cutting deeply into social support programs.
The speaker suggested the president provide a plan to cut $1.2 trillion worth of cuts from other mandatory spending programs to avoid sequestration.
“I don’t like the sequester, I don’t think anybody does,” Boehner said. “But we’ve got a serious spending problem and it’s time for us to deal with it honestly. …
“I’ve watched leaders for 22 years kick this can down the road, avoid these big decisions,” he said. “Now is the time to make the decision. The president last week was talking about moving the sequester out a couple of more months. Yeah, then what?”
White House spokesman Keith Maley deferred questions to a blog post Obama administration senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer posted Sunday.
Pfeiffer wrote assertions Obama hasn’t offered a solution is false. In 2011, the president proposed $4 trillion in deficit reduction over a decade with a combination of cutting spending, entitlement programs and asking the wealthy “to pay their fair share” to avoid the automatic cuts. Obama offered a plan to cut spending and raise revenues last month that remains on the table, Pfeiffer wrote.
“The president has already reduced the deficit by over $2.5 trillion, cutting spending by over $1.4 trillion. And he’s willing to do more,” Pfeiffer wrote. “And we just can’t cut our way to prosperity. …
“But we are not willing to accept the ‘my way or the highway’ approach by congressional Republicans that asks the middle class and seniors to bear all the burden while the very wealthiest individuals, big corporations and oil and gas companies continue to enjoy big tax loopholes that are unavailable to middle class Americans and small business,” he wrote.
Boehner, who will sit behind the president as he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress tonight, said he expected the president to talk “an awful lot” about the economy.
“My expectations are pretty low,” Boehner said. “After I listened to the inaugural address, I suspect tomorrow is rather going to be a partisan speech.
“I would hope he would lay out a pathway for us to avoid the sequester,” he added. “What are the changes and reforms that he’d put in place so that we don’t have to put the American people through what’s going to be a pretty painful period.”
Boehner attributed the budget impasse to national and political gridlock.
“We’ve got a divided country, we’ve got a divided government,” he said. “You can blame a lot of different people. It’s not about blaming people it’s about, at this point, finding enough common ground to solve this problem.”
Watch our exclusive interview
Watch our one-on-one interview with Speaker John Boehner online. We talked with him about several issues including the possibility of defense cuts that will impact Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and today’s State of the Union address by President Obama. Video is at DaytonDailyNews.com