Speaker Boehner sent a letter to the White House today urging President Obama to abandon his threat to shut down the government unless Congress gives him more tax hikes and more spending.  As Boehner noted at his weekly press briefing this morning, the president’s threat represents “a significant departure” from the agreement he and congressional leaders made earlier this year to address the issues of funding the government and crafting a broader deficit reduction package separately:

“And the truth is that we have a consequence for failing to find further deficit reduction.  It’s called sequestration.  The president knows that.  He concocted this idea and insisted upon it.

“The administration’s threats represent a significant departure from an agreement the president made just several months ago.  At a meeting at the White House on March 1st of this year, I asked the president and the other leaders for an agreement that we should address funding for the government and putting a deficit plan together as separate actions.  Everyone – including the president – agreed.

“I can’t say it any better than the president did back in March when he said: ‘[T]here’s no reason why we should have another crisis by shutting the government down in addition to these arbitrary spending cuts.’”

In his remarks, Boehner called the president’s recent threats “reckless” and “irresponsible”:

“In veto threats of two House spending bills – both of which have passed the House with overwhelming support – the White House said the president would not sign any – any – spending bill unless we agree to his demands for a broader budget deal.  In short, the president said ‘higher taxes and higher spending or we’re going to shut down the government.’ I think that’s reckless.

“Listen, there’s no one who wants to make progress on the deficits more than I do.  I’ve been working on it for years now. I know how hard it is.  That’s why the idea of shutting down the government if we can’t find a deal is so irresponsible.”

President Obama’s actions have made the already-difficult task of reconciling the House-passed and Senate-passed budgets even more so, Boehner said, urging the president instead to honor his previous agreement and take the threat of a government shutdown off the table:

“Now, the House and Senate budget chairs are continuing to be engaged in discussions - informal conversations about a framework is necessary before moving to a formal conference.  No one should be surprised that finding a framework to reconcile these two budgets is very difficult, especially since the Senate budget never, ever comes to balance.  These talks are hard, but I am hopeful that we’ll be able to find an agreement in some way.  And I think it’s critical for the long-term health of our economy and essential if we’re going to protect and preserve important programs like Medicare and Social Security.

“What the president did this week only makes this task – this difficult task – even more difficult.  So today I’m urging him to take the government shutdown threat off the table and honor our agreement from March 1st to treat these matters separately.”

The full text of Boehner’s letter to President Obama is pasted below, and a pdf version is available here.

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

In an Oval Office meeting with the bipartisan congressional leadership on March 1 of this year, I asked the group for agreement that we should address the issues of funding the government and replacing sequestration with a broader deficit reduction package separately.  You indicated you agreed with me on this point, concurring that there is no reason to inject shutdown politics into the already difficult task of finding a plan to tame our deficits.  I emerged from the meeting that day encouraged that, despite our ongoing differences on issues of entitlement spending and tax rates, we were able to identify a shared commitment to keeping the government running while addressing the issue of sequestration separately. 

I was surprised and disappointed, then, to read the two Statements of Administration Policy released this week stating flatly that you will not sign any appropriations bills to keep the government funded and operating unless Congress agrees to your demands on a broader budget deal.  These statements run counter to the bipartisan agreement that was forged at the White House meeting on March 1, and appear to signal a jarring shift in your administration’s position on a matter that is of critical importance to our nation’s fiscal and economic stability. 

I have long said that our goal should be to cut spending, not shut down the government.  Your administration’s sudden demand to increase spending and taxes – yet again – or else shut down the government can only be described as reckless.  Indeed, a Capitol Hill newspaper reported this week that a White House official acknowledged “the administration knows it is stepping into dangerous territory.”  As a president who has decried “manufactured crises” and said the economy should not be subjected to a “politically self-inflicted wound,” Americans deserve to know why you and the members of your administration would now willfully and needlessly raise the specter of a government shutdown.  

As you know, under the proposal your administration conceived and first proposed, we already have a consequence for failing to achieve deficit reduction: sequestration.  You and I agree sequestration is the wrong way to cut spending.  In the House, we voted twice to replace it with smarter cuts that protect key priorities.  But sequestration is here, as a result of legislation that you signed into law, and you have said yourself that we should not make the situation worse by creating “another crisis”:

“We agreed to a certain amount of money that was going to be spent each year, and certain funding levels for our military, our education system, and so forth.  If we stick to that deal, then I will be supportive of us sticking to that deal.  It’s a deal that I made. The sequester are additional cuts on top of that.  And by law, until Congress takes the sequester away, we’d have to abide by those additional cuts.  But there’s no reason why we should have another crisis by shutting the government down in addition to these arbitrary spending cuts.” (Statement by the President, March 1, 2013)

As you have noted, sequestration exists to bring both parties together to find common ground.  The House and Senate Budget Committee Chairs are engaged in regular order discussions about a deficit reduction framework.  It should be no surprise that finding a framework for a budget agreement between the two chambers is a daunting challenge, particularly when the Senate Democrats’ budget never, ever balances.  But at a time when such delicate discussions are underway, the introduction by your administration of such an explosive new dynamic – which contradicts your own words – needlessly injects a new element of uncertainty into our economy and further jeopardizes hopes for a bipartisan agreement.

I ask that you reject this reckless approach, reaffirm your commitment to the agreement we made on March 1, 2013, and retract your administration’s threat to shut down the government.

Sincerely,

John Boehner