Both Sides of the Aisle Unconvinced By Boehner's Debt Speech

House Speaker's spending cut vow faces critics on the left and right.

House Speaker John Boehner
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Conservative groups like Club for Growth, along with some freshman GOP House members, aren't convinced House Speaker John Boehner is committed to cutting spending and reducing the deficit, despite reviving a year-old debate over federal spending during a speech Tuesday in Washington.

Boehner told an audience at a fiscal summit that in order for House Republicans to vote to increase the country's debt ceiling—likely to be necessary this fall after the election—he would seek equivalent corresponding spending cuts.

"When the time comes, I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase," he said. "This in the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance. Just so we're clear, I'm talking about real cuts and reforms necessary to meet the principle and we must."

But Barney Keller, spokesman for the Club for Growth, a group that gives money to conservative candidates who are running against Republican incumbents, is unconvinced.

"It sounds nice, but we believe that actions speak louder than words and that votes have consequences," he says. "Many Republicans who ran with Tea Party support got to Washington and decided that, 'Hey, it's okay if we vote against deep spending cuts, it's okay if we increase the debt limit because we're just driving the car off the cliff at 55 miles an hour, while the Democrats are doing it at 70.'"

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Keller says the promised cuts from the last debt deal haven't been realized and he's skeptical of Congress' dedication to instituting any more. That's because Republicans, as well as Democrats, have sought to change the make-up and amount of the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts scheduled to take effect post-election.

The effort to avoid or change the proposed cuts "doesn't send the signal that Republicans have learned any lessons from 2006 when voters tossed them out because they had abandoned their promise of fiscal responsibility," Keller says.

The argument over spending cuts in exchange for raising the country's debt limit should sound familiar. Last summer when the country was bumping up against its authorized debt ceiling, the Republican House leader and President Obama failed to reach a so-called grand compromise and a special committee designed to find answers similarly stumbled. In exchange for support of the needed vote, Republicans and Democrats agreed to $900 billion in mutually supported cuts and an additional $1.2 trillion in spending, split between defense and domestic programs, which was scheduled to be slashed later this year.

But the pace of change has disappointed some fiscal conservatives swept into office by the Tea Party wave in 2010.

"It remains to be seen whether or not we have the nerve to cut the spending," says Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a freshman Republican from South Carolina. "I'm finished being surprised or encouraged by peoples' language, I look to their action. To the extent [Boehner] focused on the fact that there wouldn't be tricks and gimmicks this year, that's very encouraging, we just need to make sure we follow through on that."

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Mulvaney says if Congress gives up on the current cuts, why would anyone believe they are serious about future ones?

"If we give up on these cuts and we just admit to ourselves that we can't do it, then we're in much deeper trouble than we realize," he says. As it is, his constituents at home don't believe he and his colleagues have done anything to rein in spending.

"People don't believe that we actually cut spending and to a certain extent they are right, because we put off so much of the spending cuts over the last 10 years of the budget window," Mulvaney says. "We have a credibility problem with the people back home."

But by attempting to draw a firm line in the sand, Boehner gives Republicans something to run on with constituents who are disappointed with Congress as a whole.