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Boehner: Obama Should Engage on Debt

Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday called on President Barack Obama to become personally involved in cutting a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

The Ohio Republican told a small group of reporters that he was also ready to engage in negotiations so a resolution could happen within the month. He refused to endorse the debt limit talks being led by Vice President Joseph Biden and cast doubt on whether they would be the basis of any final deal to avert a government default and possible shutdown.

“The president should engage himself. … I’m willing. I’m ready. It’s time to have the conversation. It’s time to play large ball, not small ball,” Boehner said.

Boehner’s call to action followed a meeting at the White House earlier in the day where the entire House Republican Conference and the president discussed the country’s debt and budget. The Obama administration has said Aug. 2 is the deadline for raising the debt ceiling or the country will default on its financial obligations.

Boehner is not alone in wanting to engage. The 11-term lawmaker indicated Obama also recognizes the urgency of completing work.

“I suggested to the president this morning the sooner we deal with this, the better. The president agreed,” he said.

Boehner ominously warned that if Congress and the administration do not come to a solution, “the markets may do it for us.”

So far, debt ceiling negotiations have focused on the bipartisan group led by Biden. Boehner appointed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to be his representative in the talks set to resume June 9. Senate Republicans and Democrats, as well as House Democrats, are represented in the discussions as well.

When asked if he was disappointed by the state of those ongoing talks, Boehner declined to answer.

“The issues they are dealing with have to be dealt with,” Boehner said. “They are making some marginal progress, but at the rate that is going, we’ll be right up against the wall,” he said.

He declined to say whether he was encouraged or discouraged by the progress of the group, saying those words were both too strong. Instead, he gave reporters his quintessential “Boehner shrug.”

However, he did note, “We’re now in June. This surely needs to be done in the next month if we’re serious about no brinksmanship and rattling of swords.”

He indicated finding a solution before the Aug. 2 deadline would help calm the financial markets and provide certainty for businesses.

“There’s no reason to bump against [the Aug. 2 deadline]. We could have an agreement,” Boehner said. “We can get this finished this month.”

Although Boehner said he was ready to get involved, he refused to present a path forward on how a final agreement can be reached.

“It’s not my job to outline [a path forward],” Boehner said. “I’m just ready to get on with it.”

But he did say he agrees with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that significant reforms to Medicare must be part of a final deal, noting that the Biden negotiations have also included some discussions related to this. House Republicans have also repeatedly said they will not entertain tax increases as part of a compromise.

But Boehner refused to provide specifics: “Why would I want to put a straight jacket on it?”

In a wide-ranging interview, the Speaker also addressed the economy, House Republicans’ recent loss in the New York special election and the decision to delay a resolution that would bring an end to the U.S.-supported NATO military actions in Libya.

On the economy, Boehner offered a bleak outlook.
“It was improving. I have concerns, especially looking at this morning’s new job numbers. I have concerns. I’m concerned because of high gas prices, high food prices. … And as a result we’re going to see some growth over the balance of this year, I think, but not the kind of growth we need,” Boehner said.

Boehner acknowledged cutting spending alone will not kick-start the economy.

“I understand that we are not going to solve America’s problems by cutting spending alone. You have to have real economic growth. We’ve tried to outline over the course of the year those things that get in the way of economic growth,” Boehner added.

On Libya, Boehner said he believes the administration has remained within the letter of the law of the War Powers Act, but just barely.

When asked whether the administration had violated the War Powers Act, Boehner said, “Technically, no. … Legally, they’ve met the requirements of the War Powers Act.”

As for the recent electoral loss in a Republican-leaning district in New York, Boehner laid out three problems he saw that doomed the GOP candidate.

“One is that our candidate allowed her opponents to define her before she defined herself. Secondly, you had a third-party candidate who was well-known, who spent nearly $3 million attacking our candidate. And then frankly, the third part and in third place, would be the issue of Medicare. Which I thought was handled poorly by the candidate,” Boehner said.

He declined to comment on the efforts of the National Republican Congressional Committee to prop up their candidate Republican Jane Corwin.

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