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Boehner's Unreality Check

Boehner's Unreality Check

By Ruth Marcus - May 11, 2011

WASHINGTON -- The news out of House Speaker John Boehner's speech to the New York Economic Club was his demand for "cuts of trillions, not just billions" before the debt ceiling can be raised. Not just broad deficit-reduction targets, the Ohio Republican insisted, but "actual cuts and program reforms."

That's alarming enough. It is all but impossible to get this done in the available time. It certainly can't be accomplished on Boehner's unbending, no-new-taxes terms. And if the speaker truly believes that it would be "more irresponsible" to raise the debt ceiling without instituting deficit-reduction measures than not to raise it at all, we're in a heap of trouble.

Even more alarming, because it has consequences beyond the debt ceiling debate, is the incoherent, impervious-to-facts economic philosophy undergirding Boehner's remarks.

Reporters naturally tend to ignore this boilerplate. Journalistically, that makes sense. Boehner's economic comments were nothing particularly new. Indeed, they reflect what has become the mainstream thinking of the Republican Party. But that's exactly the point. We become so inured to hearing this thinking that we neglect to point out how wrong it is.

My argument with Boehner is not that he believes in a more limited role for government than I do, that he is more skeptical of government intervention and regulation, or that he is more worried about the economically stifling implications of tax increases. Those are legitimate ideological differences. American politics is better off for them.

I'm talking about statements that are simply false.

"The recent stimulus spending binge hurt our economy and hampered private-sector job creation in America."

Reasonable economists can disagree about the effectiveness of the stimulus spending and whether it was worth the drag of the additional debt, but no reasonable economist argues that it hurt the economy in the short term.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the stimulus added, on average, about one percentage point annually to economic growth and reduced the unemployment rate by half a point between 2009 and 2011. And that's the low-end estimate. The high-end numbers show the stimulus spending adding 2.7 percentage points annually to economic growth and cutting the unemployment rate by 1.2 points.

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Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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