Speaker of the House John Boehner at the announcement of a budget deal. (Kevin Lamarque, Reuters )
Reporting from Washington — House Speaker John Boehner said Monday that the recent budget battle has forged a good working relationship with President Obama, one that will be tested as bigger fights loom between the two leaders.
In his first interview since Friday's 11th-hour compromise on the 2011 budget, the Ohio Republican said his party will push hard for a "meaningful" deficit reduction plan before agreeing to increase the nation's debt limit.
"Not raising the debt limit would have serious, very serious implications for the worldwide economy and jobs here in America. But having said that, we're just not going to do the typical Washington thing — roll over, increase the debt limit — without addressing the underlying problems," he told Fox News Channel on Monday.
Lawmakers have not even voted on the final compromise reached Friday between House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House — the first vote is expected to come Wednesday in the House. But Washington is already eyeing the next in a series of fiscal confrontations that will come as Congress takes up the administration's request to increase the limit on federal borrowing.
That vote will likely not come until May. But Republicans will showcase the more than $14 trillion debt in rolling out an austerity package from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) later this week. Obama is also planning his own address on deficit reduction on Wednesday as he seeks to reframe the narrative pushed by the GOP that he has "punted" on a serious approach.
Boehner said he looks forward to hearing the president's ideas, but that he's already cool to the suggestion of raising taxes on higher earners.
"We've been waiting for months for the president to enter into this debate with us. And I can tell you that privately I've encouraged the president: 'Mr. President, lock arms with me. Let's jump out of the boat together,'" Boehner said. "We have to deal with this, this is the moment in time that we've been given to address the problems. Forget the next election. Forget the next poll that's going to come out. It's time to do the right thing for the country."
Looking back on the deal reached Friday, Boehner said it was by no means perfect, and even predicted members of his caucus are likely to vote against it. But he sold it as a "good start," saying the government will now spend $78 billion less than would have been the case if Democrats had their way. And he credited the "tea party" movement for driving that progress.
"While the president and others want to malign the tea party, these are Americans who've gotten engaged in the government, many for the first time," he said. "I think we ought to welcome their involvement, welcome their energy, and we should listen to them."
The battle of the last month produced its share of heated moments. Boehner criticized the "feigned moral outrage" Vice President Joe Biden showed at one point. But the speaker and the president have built a solid working relationship, Boehner said.
"I think we've understood more about each other. I think we've developed a process that may allow the debate to go forward," he said. "But understand that ideologically there are giant differences."