The two most powerful Republicans in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared on Sunday morning talk to discuss a number of issues, but perhaps the most interesting was their respective responses regarding entitlement reform.
Although some pundits liked President Obama's State of the Union Address, many other centrist based analysts and those on the right criticized the President for talking only tangentially about the country's record deficit and debt, and what he intends to do to begin paring that down.
Some critics say the buck stops with the President, so Obama must lead the way on this issue. But others say that since it was the Republicans who have put such an emphasis on that issue, they need to lead the way. John Boehner had this exchange with Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace:
WALLACE: So, if sides are doing an Alphonse and Gaston act, and waiting for the other side, how does it get done?
BOEHNER: Listen, I made it really clear that I think it's time for Washington to have an adult conversation with the American people about the big challenges that face us. And, frankly, I think the White House is interested in having that same conversation.
But, here, we've got the Senate majority leader who says there's no problem in Social Security. And if we can't get Senate Democrats and their leader to recognize that we've got real problems, I don't know how we begin to move down this path of having this adult conversation that I'd like to have and I, frankly, like the president would like to have.
WALLACE: So, but — in the end, does it mean that you and the president and the leaders are going to have to get together and get in the boat at the same time?
BOEHNER: I think that is responsible way to address big problems that face our country. We've been in to this gotcha politics around this town for far too long. And the American people want us to look them in the eye and say, this is how big the problem is. I think that that conversation has to happen.
Once that happens, we can begin to talk about an array of possible solutions. And have that conversation. Then begin to develop a plan of what's doable to address the long-term concerns that we have in these entitlement programs.
WALLACE: What do you think are the chances of a deal on entitlements in at least — even a partial deal, in the six to eight months that you say we have before everybody goes into campaign mode?
BOEHNER: I'm an optimist. I'll be the first one to admit. And I'm hopeful that we can begin the conversation and make real progress to address our long-term concerns. We can't continue to go down the path we've been on.
And I think the American people are ready for the conversation. They're expecting us to lead. And I'm hopeful that working across the aisle, working with the White House, we can, in fact, begin the conversation.
Meanwhile, over on NBC' Meet The Press, Senate Minority Leader McConnell said that both Congress and Obama need to begin doing something about entitlements, together:
MCCONNELL:-I agree with The Washington Post editorial this morning. I was disappointed in the president's unwillingness to, to address our long-term unfunded liabilities.
MR. GREGORY: Well, that's very interesting because I've also detected a great deal of caution on the part of Republicans who, who campaigned on the idea of spending cuts. And yet, when it comes to a program like Social Security—it was Speaker Boehner who told a group of us this week, "Well, look, we need to spend more time defining the problem before we get in the boat with the president here and say that we've got to make long-term changes." Is that your view?
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, look, we have, we have two problems here. It's our annual deficit, completely out of control. We're going to send the president a lot less—we're going to allow him to sign onto a lot less spending than he recommended the other night and that he's likely to send us in the budget. Then with, with regard to long-term unfunded liabilities, the entitlements, Speaker Boehner's correct, you cannot do that on a partisan basis. President Bush tried doing that in 2005 with regard to Social Security's problems. And by the way, the announcement this week that Social Security's gone into deficit, it will run a $45 billion deficit this year and for as far as the eye can see. Look, entitlement reform can only be done on a bipartisan basis. It's happened before. Reagan and Tip O'Neill fixed Social Security in '83. Reagan and the Democratic House did tax reform in '86.
MR. GREGORY: So, but if the president were to say, "OK, Leader McConnell, if, if you're prepared to deal with some revenue increases, we can also deal with some benefit cuts. Let's take a balanced approach to Social Security," you could support that?
SEN. McCONNELL: Look, you know, you've tried this before. I, I'm not going to negotiate the deal with David Gregory. I'd be happy to negotiate it...
MR. GREGORY: I keep hoping you'll change your mind.
SEN. McCONNELL: I'd be happy to try to negotiate the deal, and Speaker Boehner would too, with the president and the vice president and others.
MR. GREGORY: But does the president have to go first before you'll take on entitlement reform?
SEN. McCONNELL: We have to go together. We have to go together. The American people are asking us to tackle these problems. I think the president needs to be more bold. We're prepared to meet—I've got a lot of new members, and Speaker Boehner does as well, who came here to tackle this big problem. We were waiting...
MR. GREGORY: But you're saying, "Be bold on entitlements and Republicans will meet you halfway"?
SEN. McCONNELL: We're happy to sit down and talk about entitlement reform with the president. We know Social Security is in trouble. It was just announced by CBO this week. We know Medicare is on an unsustained path. They took a half a trillion dollars out of it to fund this healthcare program that they enacted. Look, we need to get serious about this.
Another huge budget issue regards raising the debt ceiling in a vote that will come up in March. Tea party fueled Republicans have said they won't automatically vote for that issue, unless they see substantive spending cuts proposed at the same time. That may or may not happen, but the Obama administration has said it would be disastrous for the county and the world if that were to happen, and House Speaker John Boehner agrees, as he told Fox's Chris Wallace on Sunday:
BOEHNER: That would be a financial disaster not only for our country, but for the worldwide economy. Remember, the American people on Election Day said we want to cut spending and we want to create jobs. You can't create jobs if you default on the federal debt.
Listen, there has been a spending spree going on in Washington these last couple of years that is beyond control, and if the president is going to ask us to increase the debt limit, then he's going to have to be willing to cut up the credit cards. We've got to work together by listening to the American people and reducing these obligations that we have.
WALLACE: So, defaulting on the full faith and credit is unacceptable to you?
BOEHNER: I don't think — I don't think it's a question that is even on the table.