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Boehner Takes Softer Tone on Debt Limit

 (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
 (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Speaker John A. Boehner appears resigned to raising the debt limit, even though Republicans are unlikely to extract new spending cuts from the White House in return.

The old standard for the Ohio Republican used to be a dollar of spending “cuts or reforms” for every dollar the debt ceiling was raised. That was the “Boehner rule” the speaker applied to the debt ceiling debate in August 2011. But that stance seems to have gone out the window.

While Boehner oversaw debt ceiling raises in February and October of last year that didn’t include those dollar-for-dollar cuts, his rhetoric never seemed to soften.

When President Barack Obama took the stance that he wouldn’t negotiate over the debt ceiling, Boehner was adamant, as recently as October, that “it doesn’t work that way.”

On Thursday, he had a different attitude.

“The president has not only made clear that he will not negotiate on the debt limit, he’s also made clear, as have Democrats on Capitol Hill, that they won’t talk about our long-term spending problem unless Republicans are willing to raise taxes. Republicans are not willing to raise taxes,” Boehner said at his weekly news conference. “So we find ourselves in a fairly difficult box.”

Boehner said he didn’t know when the debt ceiling would need to be raised — Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew recently said it would need to be raised more likely in February than March — but he said he supported raising it. He didn’t mention any conditions for that action, either.

Republicans are expected to discuss the issue at their annual retreat in two weeks, and they are unlikely to put forward any plan on the debt ceiling before that time.

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