Boehner ‘Not Confident’ of Deal to Avoid Spending Cuts

House Speaker John Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

House Speaker John Boehner said he was “not confident at all” that Congress would reach a deal on avoiding $1.2 trillion in spending cuts set to take effect in January.

Boehner said today the Democratic-led Senate and a lack of leadership by President Barack Obama were to blame for inaction on finding an alternative to the spending cuts to meet the deficit target and avoid the Dec. 31 expiration of George W. Bush-era tax cuts.

“Well, I’m not confident at all,” the Ohio Republican said when asked at a Capitol Hill news conference about Moody’s Investors Service’s statement today that it may downgrade the U.S. credit rating unless Congress finds a way to reduce the percentage of debt-to-gross domestic product.

Moody’s said it would extend the U.S.’s Aaa rating with negative outlook beyond 2013 if the so-called “‘fiscal cliff’ actually materialized.” The fiscal cliff refers to $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts and the expiration of tax cuts that would take effect in January.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he was “disappointed” with Boehner’s comments, adding that it was “much too early” to give up on a deal.

“I think we have to look at the glass being half full, not half empty all the time,” Reid told reporters.

‘Done Its Job’

Boehner said “the House has done its job” by passing legislation to find alternative spending cuts and extend the Bush-era tax rates.

“The Senate at some point has to act,” Boehner said. “Where’s the president? Where’s the leadership? Absent without leave.”

No talks to avoid the fiscal cliff are under way in Congress, and lawmakers in both parties have said they don’t expect negotiations to begin in earnest until after the Nov. 6 election.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters today he was “optimistic that once this election is over” that the “patriotism of members -- Republican and Democratic” will allow them to reach a deal. “I don’t think anything is going to be done before November,” he said.

Asked about Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s statement that it was a “mistake” for House Republicans to agree to the spending cuts in defense and other domestic programs, Boehner said, “It was certainly a difficult time.”

Stopgap Measure

Also today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said the House is scheduled to vote Sept. 13 on a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating past the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year. Obama and congressional leaders have tentatively agreed to a six-month stopgap measure.

As to whether the House plans to adjourn Sept. 21 until after the election, Cantor said “the important thing is to make sure that the necessary resources are there for the government to continue operating.”

Hoyer said House Democrats plan to support the measure because it continues the spending levels in the 2011 legislation that extended the government’s borrowing authority.

Florida Representative Allen West, a freshman Republican elected on a deficit-reduction platform with support of the Tea Party movement, said he would vote for the stopgap spending measure even though it doesn’t contain deeper spending cuts.

Republicans won’t use the threat of a government shutdown to push for deeper cuts, as they did in past showdowns, because “I don’t think the American people want that,” West said.

Eight weeks before the presidential and congressional election, “the most important thing to do is to get a different administration and win the Senate so we can operate this place the way it should be,” West said.

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