House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) held a press conference this morning to address, among other things, the looming automatic spending cuts called the "sequester," which kick in three weeks from tomorrow. And watching him read his written remarks, it occurred to me that I not only disagree with Boehner, I'm convinced the Speaker -- or whomever is writing his speeches -- is deeply confused about the basics of the fiscal debate.
In other words, I don't just think Boehner is wrong, I also think he's oblivious in ways that are rather alarming given his role in government.
Consider his very first sentence: "The number one priority for the American people is creating jobs and getting our spending under control."
Boehner doesn't seem to understand that (a) spending cuts have already kept unemployment high; (b) more spending cuts will clearly undermine the strength of the fragile recovery; and (c) our spending is already under control.
The Speaker added, "[T]he president and Senate Democrats have done almost nothing to address our long-term debt problems."
Again, it seems as if Boehner has no idea that the president and Senate Democrats have already approved nearly $2.5 trillion in long-term debt reduction. How could he not know that?
The Speaker went on to complain that Obama "didn't announce any specific plans for how he would address" the sequester, followed moments later by Boehner conceding that he hasn't announced any specific plans for how he would address the sequester, either.
Then there was this boast: "Republicans have twice voted to replace the president's 'sequester' with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect our national defense."
Perhaps Boehner missed this in Civics 101, but those votes were in the last Congress, and no longer apply. If the House intends to replace the sequester with an alternative package, that's fine, but the Speaker will have to bring it to the floor and have the chamber vote on it -- because as of now, this House hasn't done literally anything on the issue at all.
Boehner added, "We passed a bill twice to replace the sequester." That's true. It's also irrelevant since it didn't happen in this Congress. The Speaker of the House realizes how the legislative process works, doesn't he?
He added, "Americans do not support sacrificing real spending cuts for more tax hikes." First, he shouldn't speak for the American public, since the American mainstream disagrees with him on nearly everything. Second, Democrats aren't proposing tax hikes; they're proposing closing tax loopholes -- a position Boehner himself agreed with as recently as last month.
Has Boehner forgotten his own positions from a month ago?
The Speaker added, "Listen, the president doesn't believe we have a spending problem. He genuinely believes that government spending causes economic growth."
Obama believes this because (a) we don't have a spending problem; and (b) government spending causes economic growth. That's not even in the realm of opinion, and if Boehner can explain in complete sentences why he disagrees, he's welcome to explain himself (John, really, call me anytime day or night.)
Boehner added that he knows government spending doesn't promote growth because
"the unemployment rate is still nearly eight percent."
It's as if the Speaker of the House is a child who finds current events confusing, so he doesn't bother to keep up with the details. In his mind, spending has soared, and unemployment is high, ergo, spending caused higher unemployment. He doesn't have the foggiest idea that spending isn't up and that's contributed to higher unemployment.
"Americans know that another tax hike isn't going to help them," Boehner added. Who's proposing another tax hike? I don't know. Neither does the Speaker.
The poor man is deeply confused. I can appreciating policymakers disagreeing on key issues, but today's display suggests the Speaker of the House hasn't kept up on the basics of civics, economics, current events, or even the fiscal debate itself.
It was a painful and alarming display.