January 3, 2013

Next time, fiscal fight to intensify

Struggles over spending and debt will return in two months, with Republicans expected to take a harder line on a borrowing cap and automatic cuts.

By ANDREW TAYLOR The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Action inside a dysfunctional Washington now only comes with binding deadlines. So, naturally, this week's hard-fought bargain sets up another crisis in two months, when painful across-the-board spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs are set to kick in and the government runs out of the ability to juggle its $16.4 trillion debt without having to borrow more money.

Unless Congress increases or allows Obama to increase that borrowing cap, the government risks a first-ever default on U.S. obligations. Republicans will use this as an opportunity to leverage more spending cuts from Obama, just like they did in the summer of 2011.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, vows that any increase in the debt limit -- which needs to be enacted by Congress by the end of February or sometime in March -- must be accompanied by an equal amount in cuts to federal spending. That puts him on yet another collision course with Obama, who has vowed anew that he won't let haggling over spending cuts complicate the debate over the debt limit.

The cliff compromise represented the first time since 1990 that Republicans condoned a tax increase. That has whipped up a fury among tea party conservatives and increased the pressure on Boehner to adopt a hard line in coming confrontations over the borrowing cap and the spending cuts that won only a two-month reprieve in this week's deal.

The upshot? More scorched-earth politics on the budget will probably dominate the initial few months of Obama's second term, when the president would prefer to focus on legacy accomplishments like fixing the immigration problem and implementing his overhaul of health care.

The relationship between Boehner and Obama has never been especially close, and seemed to have suffered a setback last month after the speaker withdrew from negotiations on a broader deficit deal. The two get along personally, but politically, a series of collapsed negotiations has bred mistrust. The White House has the view that Boehner cannot deliver, while the speaker is frustrated that matters brought up in his talks with the president are not followed through by White House staff.

And on the debt limit, Boehner and Obama at this point are simply talking past each other.

"While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they've already racked up through the laws that they passed," Obama said after the fiscal deal was approved Tuesday.

Said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel: "The speaker's position is clear. Any increase in the debt limit must be matched by spending cuts or reforms that exceed the increase."

 

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