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John Boehner's debt demand: 'Spending cuts need to be larger than the increase in the debt limit itself'

June 12, 2011 |  6:44 am

Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio with General David Petraeus in Kabul 4-11

Speaker John Boehner's Remarks at Ashland University Saturday, as provided by his office

Thanks to Peter Schramm for that introduction. I’m honored to have the chance to speak with you tonight at this great event, held in honor of a great man and great Ohioan, John M. Ashbrook.

As most of you know, ‘tonight’ was originally supposed to happen a couple of months ago. We had to reschedule because I had to be in Washington for the final negotiations on the bill to keep the government running and finish last year’s budget.

I was supposed to be with all of you that Friday night. [I]nstead I spent the day on the phone with President Obama, trying to squeeze another billion dollars in spending cuts out of the most powerful man in the world. . .a very reluctant one, I might add.

I’m fairly confident this evening will be more pleasant.  It already has been.  So let me thank you for your patience with my schedule, and for sticking with me as your speaker tonight. 

As important as that process was this spring, it was important in part because we....

...needed to cut spending and move on to the next debate -- the really vital debate. That’s the debate we’re in right now: the debate over this year's budget, and the president's request that we raise the national debt limit.

Ultimately, this is not a debate not about numbers. It’s a debate about jobs. And it’s a debate about the very future of our country. And that’s what I want to talk to you about tonight.

As everyone in this room knows all too well, our nation is confronting a very serious debt crisis. 

Our national debt has exploded to the point where it is no longer just threatening our children’s future, decades down the road; it’s threatening our economy right now in a very tangible way with very real consequences. 

My message to you tonight is that we will not emerge from this crisis until we adopt policies that allow our economy to create jobs and grow.  All of the meddling and short-term gimmicks from Washington have to stop. 

What we have to do is seize this moment.  We need to use it to stop the madness going on inside the Beltway. . .to open the door again to long-term American economic growth. 

I bring this message to you tonight as a fellow Buckeye and a fellow son of Ohio.

My generation grew up in a land of opportunity, courtesy of the generations that came before us.  My family didn’t have a lot; I had 11 brothers and sisters, and my dad ran a bar.  But each of us had the opportunity to choose our own path, and to set our own goals, and to choose our own destiny.  That was the gift bestowed on us by our parents and grandparents. 

Those opportunities are what allowed me to get a college degree; to run a small business; to raise a family in a great community; and, ultimately, to serve my state and my country in Congress and to serve as Speaker of the House.

Those opportunities are also what drove our nation’s economy for decades, and made America an economic powerhouse.  You might even say they powered the American Dream.

Today, because of the massive debt burden our nation is accumulating, those opportunities are vanishing before our eyes. Not just for our children and grandchildren, but for current generations.

The evidence is all around us. The jobs report issued by the U.S. Department of Labor last week was a punch in the gut. . .a sobering reality check. Unemployment is 9.1 percent – creeping upward again, with only 54,000 jobs created in May. 

The ‘stimulus’ spending bill enacted in 2009 was supposed to keep the unemployment rate from rising above 8 percent, and create millions of new jobs – 90 percent of them private-sector jobs. 

None of it happened. 

I would submit to you tonight that the reason we are continuing to struggle economically is because we’ve been placing too much trust in government programs, and not enough trust in our people, who’ve always been the real driving force behind the American economy.

The reality is that the bigger the government gets, the smaller the American people get.  More government means less freedom.  Less freedom means less growth.  Less growth means fewer jobs. 

The keynote speaker at the First Annual John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner was a....

Boehner and president Obama on Capitol steps 3-17-11 who understood this well – President Ronald Reagan. Nobody understood this better, or communicated it more effectively to our nation.

The American people understand it as well. It’s engrained in our national character; it’s part of our American DNA. What’s been missing are national policies that reflect what the American people know. 

Across the nation we’re seeing a renewed interest in the sound Constitutional principles that have been the foundation of our country for centuries. 

Here at the Ashbrook Center, weekly letters from an Ohio Farmer are going out to Members of Congress reminding us of ways we can remain true to the principles of a government of, by and for the people.

Still, a majority of those in Washington refuse to listen.  Most of the federal government is out of sync with the American people, pursuing policies that go in the opposite direction. The result has been a jobless recovery – and ‘recovery’ may be too strong a word. 

Balancing the budget requires us to cut spending – but it also requires us to commit ourselves as a nation to policies that allow our economy to create jobs. That’s a much more challenging proposition than you might think.  Let me give you an example of what we’re up against.

Imagine that you could solve poverty by simply having the government print more money. More for everyone means everybody wins. Right?

Of course that's ridiculous; it doesn't work that way.

But sometimes I believe that's the way people in Washington approach jobs. If our economy isn't producing enough of them, the thinking goes, then the government just needs to create more.  It means we need a new government spending program.

It doesn't work that way.

Jobs are a product of our economy; a product of the hard work and ingenuity of the American people.  The government doesn’t create jobs; the private-sector creates jobs.

The responsibility of government is to ensure there's an environment for job creation. And it starts with staying out of the way. Excessive spending by government doesn’t create jobs and instill certainty; it spreads uncertainty, which destroys jobs.

John Ashbrook was a man who understood this. Here are a couple of things he said:

Unions [and their liberal allies]. . .want more welfare, which would push up the deficit. They also want a national health program, which would push up the deficit borrowing. This waste of investment hurts all Americans, but it hurts [workers] most of all. . .

Liberal economic theorists argue that a large budget deficit will stimulate the economy and produce jobs.  In reality, however, large deficits destroy jobs.’

These are arguments regularly articulated by conservatives today. They were uttered nearly 40 years ago by John Ashbrook. He was aiming those comments not just at his ideological adversaries, but also at some in his own party who had begun to drift away from their principles. 

John Ashbrook never ascended to the presidency, but his party unquestionably heard his call. The result was the presidency of Ronald Reagan. . .a new approach to governing. . .and the largest peacetime economic expansion in our history. 

I believe the American people themselves provided a similar rallying cry at the polls in November. And in their wise words, you can hear echoes of John Ashbrook’s wisdom.

The current economic situation is grim, and the policies coming out of Washington are making it worse.  But despair is not an option. There are steps we can take to get our economy back to creating jobs. 

My colleagues and I put forth some of these steps in our Pledge to America last fall, and we recently reinforced them with an expanded jobs agenda that we released last month. You can check it out at

Our agenda calls for reducing the regulatory burden on small businesses. Reforming the tax code to help job creators. Passing free-trade agreements to open new markets to American exports. Expanding production of American-made energy.

These are the things we need to do to encourage growth. They’re united by a common theme: removing government barriers that are creating uncertainty and slowing our economy down. 

There's one other thing we have to do if we're serious about job creation, and that is ensure that there is no increase in the national debt limit unless it is accompanied by major spending cuts and reforms.  Those spending cuts need to be larger than the increase in the debt limit itself. They should be actual cuts and program reforms, not broad deficit or debt targets that punt the tough questions to the future. 

If we don't do these things. . .if we simply raise the debt limit without changing the status quo. . .it's going to do exactly what President Obama says is going to happen if we DON'T raise the debt limit on his terms: it's going to hurt our economy and destroy American jobs.

Some of the so-called ‘elites’ don't get this. They don't see the connection to jobs. But it's very clear to me. 

If we raise the debt ceiling without cuts that are larger than the increase, we are saying to the world: government still doesn't get it.  We’re saying Washington is still not serious about addressing the spending addiction that is sucking the life out of our economy.  And that means fewer jobs.

You don't have to take my word for it. Take it from any one of the more than 150 economists who signed a statement last week echoing this position.

The opportunity to do something big for our economy and our country is looking us right in the eye.  This is the moment.  This is the time.

If we really want to provide a jolt to job creation in this country, we need to do something that defies expectations.  Right now the expectation is that politicians will kick the can down the road again. 

The same thing is true on Medicare. Right now the program is spiraling into bankruptcy. The expectation is that Washington, despite Paul Ryan’s courageous budget, will do nothing. 

I believe we can defy those expectations. 

Consider this: a few years ago, nobody thought it was possible that Congress would clean up the earmark process. When I and a few others called for earmark reforms to crack down on wasteful pork-barrel projects, a lot of people laughed; they said it would never happen. 

Today, the House of Representatives is operating under a total earmark ban.  We didn't just reform the earmark process; we brought it to a halt. 

This is going to be the first Congress in modern history that passes appropriations bills without earmarks. And it's going to be the first Congress in modern history to produce spending bills that cut spending -- dramatically -- instead of increasing spending.  We're starting it this month. 

We can make the same dramatic changes when it comes to the rest of the federal budget.  I truly believe that.  But doing it will require leadership. . .leadership of the presidential sort. 

I’ve reached out to President Obama and made clear: I’m ready to jump if you are. We know what the problems are.  For the sake of jobs and our economy, let’s get it done. 

I know a thing or two about creating jobs. I may be the Speaker of the House, but I came to be Speaker by way of the private sector; by way of small business.

As I said earlier tonight, opportunity is what got me here.

I want our children to have those same opportunities I had.  We have a responsibility to ensure that they do.

This is the moment.  Not later.  Now.

Is there political risk?  Sure there is.  That's why we're in the mess we're in.

“But I've always operated by a simple standard, which I got from my mom and dad: if you do the right things for the right reasons, good things will usually happen. Things usually end up taking care of themselves.

Edmund Burke is credited with saying, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’

Our nation's elected leaders have been pretty good at doing nothing over the past few decades.

John Ashbrook was not the type to sit idly by and do nothing.  And I believe we're entering an era where the American people will no longer tolerate those who do.

The people I talk to know we are a nation facing a crisis. They know the future of our country is on the line, and they want leaders who are serious about taking on those challenges. They want leaders who aren't afraid to speak the truth.

We honor the legacy of John Ashbrook by serving our country and taking a stand. This is the moment.  This is the time.  Let’s not let it pass us by. Thank you for allowing me to be with you tonight.  God Bless America.     ####

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Top photo: Speaker of the House John Boehner with Gen. David Petraeus in Kabul, Afghanistan in April. Credit: Naval Chief Petty Officer Joshua Treadwell

Bottom photo: John Boehner and President Obama in March. Credit: Olivier Douliery / MCT