(AP) Boehner voices skepticism on budget prospects
By JULIE PACE and ANDREW TAYLOR
House Speaker John Boehner expressed doubts Wednesday that the Republican-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate could reach agreement on a budget and avoid automatic spending cuts that could jeopardize economic growth.
In a post-State of the Union interview with The Associated Press, Boehner also dismissed President Barack Obama’s new proposal for taxpayer-funded universal pre-school. And he showed little support for Obama’s core proposals on immigration reform and gun control, including universal background checks.
But it’s the economy and deficit at the top of the congressional priority list as Obama and lawmakers face looming fiscal crises confronting the nation: the deep automatic spending cuts, called a “sequester,” to take effect March 1, followed by the government running out of money to fund federal agencies March 27.
Boehner, seeking to keep the government from lurching from one crisis to another, has also pressed for Washington to get back to passing regular budgets. But he expressed pessimism about whether that was possible given the deep divisions on Capitol Hill.
The Ohio Republican also reiterated his opposition to letting the sequester take effect, and served up a reality check to members of his caucus who say publicly that they would be willing to let the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts take effect on March 1.
The president wants to put off the sequester through a combination of targets spending cuts and increased tax revenue. Republicans want to offset the sequester with spending cuts alone.
Obama also used the prime-time speech Tuesday to call for action on a broad agenda that included the economy, guns, immigration, taxes and climate change. He offered new initiatives on voting, manufacturing, and research and development. He said he wanted to raise the minimum wage, lower energy use, and expand pre-school programs for all 4-year-olds.
While Obama left out key details of the pre-school program, including the cost to the federal government, administration officials said ahead of Tuesday’s speech that the proposal would include the government providing financial incentives to assist states. The president is expected to campaign on the proposal Thursday in Georgia.
Boehner dismissed the need for the federal government to get involved in early childhood education, saying it was “a good way to screw it up.”
During a visit Wednesday to Asheville, N.C., Obama promoted his ideas on creating jobs and closing the income gap between the wealthiest and middle-income Americans. The president used a retrofitted former Volvo plant to make a case for proposals designed to encourage companies that have operated overseas to bring back jobs to the U.S.
The president also used his State of the Union address to call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration legislation with a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants and hold votes on a series of gun-control measures introduced following the shootings of 20 school children in Newtown, Conn.
Boehner has been noncommittal on his position on key components of both proposals.
On immigration, Boehner told the AP that he was “encouraged” by bipartisan congressional efforts to address immigration reform. But he refused to take a position on providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, including for young people who were brought to the country illegally.
On gun control, Boehner wouldn’t commit to holding votes on universal background checks or bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Instead, he focused on exploring the link between mass shootings and mental health.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.