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Boehner: Trying to avoid falling off the "fiscal cliff." Transcript

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WASHINGTON, DC - Following is the full text, as prepared for delivery, of House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) statement on efforts to avert the fiscal cliff and the need for both parties to find common ground and take steps together to help our economy grow and create jobs, which is critical to solving our debt:

Good afternoon.

Let me start by offering my congratulations to President Obama and the First Lady, and to Vice President and Dr. Biden.

Like many Americans, I hoped the presidential election would turn out differently. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are good men, and great leaders. I wish Mitt, Ann, Paul, Janna and their families well.

The American people have spoken. They have re-elected President Obama. And they have again elected a Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

If there is a mandate in yesterday's results, it is a mandate for us to find a way to work together on solutions to the challenges we face together as a nation.

My message today is not one of confrontation, but of conviction.

In the weeks and months ahead, we face a series of tremendous challenges - and a great opportunity.

Just weeks away now looms the so-called fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic spending cuts and tax increases mandated by law.

Within months of the fiscal cliff, Congress will be asked to raise the nation's debt ceiling.

Around the same time, legislation will be needed to keep the government running, as the continuing resolution under which it is currently operating expires.

Amid all of these short-term hurdles, we face the greatest challenge of all: a massive debt that is smothering growth, exceeding the size of our entire economy.

There will be many who say that with the election over, we should confront the first of these challenges by simply letting the top two tax rates expire, and pushing the sequester off to a later date.

They'd have us engage in the same short-term, temporary policies that helped to put us in this fix.

In essence, they're saying: "Let's have more of the same. Let's agree to drive our economy off part of the fiscal cliff instead of driving it off the whole cliff, and call it a day."

That might get us out of town, but it won't get us out of the problem. It will also hurt the economy.

We can't go on like that. We can't keep setting the bar that low. It's time we raised the bar.

The American people this week didn't give us a mandate to do the 'simple' thing. They elected us to lead.

They gave us a mandate to work together to do the best thing for our country.

We know what the best thing would be.

It would be an agreement that sends the signal to our economy, and to the world, that after years of punting on the major fiscal challenges we face, 2013 is going to be different.

It would be an agreement that begins to pave the way for the long-term growth that is essential if we want to lift the cloud of debt hanging over our country.

We won't solve the problem of our fiscal imbalance overnight, in the midst of a lame duck session of Congress.

And we certainly won't solve it by simply raising tax rates or taking a plunge off the fiscal cliff.

What we can do is avert the cliff in a manner that serves as a down payment on - and a catalyst for - major solutions, enacted in 2013, that begin to solve the problem.

Mr. President, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives stands ready to work with you to do what's best for our country. And that's exactly what I told the president earlier today.

That is the will of the people. And we answer to them.

Doing what's best means fully considering the impact of the policies we might set in motion.

The independent accounting firm Ernst and Young says going over part of the fiscal cliff and raising tax rates on the top two brackets will cost our economy more than 700,000 jobs.

Ernst and Young also confirms many of those hit with the rate increase will be small business owners - the very people both parties acknowledge are the key to private sector job creation.

There is an alternative to going over the fiscal cliff, in whole or in part.

It involves making real changes to the financial structure of entitlement programs, and reforming our tax code to curb special-interest loopholes and deductions.

By working together and creating a fairer, simpler, cleaner tax code, we can give our country a stronger, healthier economy.

A stronger economy means more revenue, which is what the president seeks.

Because the American people expect us to find common ground, we are willing to accept some additional revenues, via tax reform.

There's a model for tax reform that supports economic growth. It happened in 1986, with a Democratic House run by Tip O'Neill, and a Republican president named Ronald Reagan.

In 1986, there too were skeptics who doubted the economic benefits of tax reform.

Those skeptics were wrong.

As Stanford economist and former Treasury Secretary George P. Shultz put it, the 1986 reform "is sort of the unsung hero of the very good economic times we had for a long time."

The time has come to revamp the code again - and if we do, he argues, "you'll get a gusher. . . there will be a response, and revenue will come in."

But the American people also expect us to solve the problem.

And for that reason, in order to garner Republican support for new revenues, the president must be willing to reduce spending and shore up the entitlement programs that are the primary drivers of our debt.

We aren't seeking to impose our will on the president; we're asking him to make good on his 'balanced' approach.

The president has called for a 'balanced' approach to the deficit - a combination of spending cuts and increased revenues.

But a 'balanced' approach isn't balanced if it means higher tax rates on the small businesses that are key to getting our economy moving again and keeping it moving.

A 'balanced' approach isn't balanced if it means we increase the amount of money coming into the coffers of government, but we don't cut spending and address entitlements at the same time.

A 'balanced' approach isn't balanced if it's done in the old Washington way of raising taxes now, and ultimately failing to cut spending in the future.

A 'balanced' approach isn't balanced if it means slashing national defense instead of making the common-sense spending cuts that are truly needed.

Real economic growth eluded us in the president's first term. Without it, we cannot solve our debt.

For purposes of forging a bipartisan agreement that begins to solve the problem, we're willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions.

What matters is where the increased revenue comes from, and what type of reform comes with it.

Does the increased revenue come from government taking a larger share of what the American people earn through higher tax rates?

Or does it come as the byproduct of a growing economy, energized by a simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code, with fewer loopholes, and lower rates for all?

And at the same time we're reforming the tax code, are we supporting growth by taking concrete steps to put our country's entitlement programs on a sounder financial footing?

Or are we just going to continue to duck the matter of entitlements, and thus the root of the whole problem?

Shoring up entitlements and reforming the tax code - closing special interest loopholes and deductions, and moving to a fairer, simpler system - will bring jobs home and result in a stronger, healthier economy.

History teaches that this is the right path to take.

Tax reform, done in the manner I've described, will result in the additional revenue the president seeks.

It will support economic growth, which means more revenue is generated for the Treasury.

And it will improve the efficiency of the system, which means additional revenue as well.

We're closer than many think to the critical mass needed legislatively to get tax reform done.

The president and I talked extensively about it during the summer of 2011.

Senator Pat Toomey and Chairman Jeb Hensarling, with the support of other Republicans, offered substantive proposals in the so-called supercommittee last year that provided revenue via tax reform.

The American people recognize that getting our economy moving again is the only way we will ever be able to balance the federal budget.

The question we should be asking is not 'which taxes should I raise to get more revenue,' but rather: 'which reforms can we agree on that will get our economy moving again?'

There are two paths we can take to get the revenue the president seeks.

Feeding the growth of government through higher tax rates won't help us solve the problem.

Feeding the growth of our economy through a better and cleaner tax code will.

The president has signaled a willingness to do tax reform with lower rates.

Republicans have signaled a willingness to accept new revenue if it comes from growth and reform.

Let's start the discussion there.

I'm not suggesting we compromise on our principles.

But I am suggesting we commit ourselves to creating an atmosphere where we can see common ground when it exists, and seize it.

If we can't find common ground, it means we'll continue to operate a tax code on a year-by-year basis.

It means we'll continue to extend major programs for months at a time.

It means we'll continuously face expiration of the government's borrowing authority.

And we'll be on constant downgrade watch from our creditors.

In the New Testament, a parable is told of two men. One built his house on sand; the other built his house on rock.

The foundation of our country's economy - the rock of our economy - has always been small businesses in the private sector.

I ran one of those small businesses, and I can tell you: raising small businesses' taxes means they don't grow.

If small businesses don't grow, our economy doesn't grow.

If our economy doesn't grow, we don't have a prayer of digging our country out of this hole we call the national debt.

This is why going over part of the fiscal cliff and raising taxes on job creators is no solution at all.

Instead of building our house on sand, let's build it on rock.

Instead of raising small businesses' taxes, let's start fixing their problems.

Let's start giving them some confidence and certainty about what the future holds.

For this to work, we need to plan for a serious process, focused on substance, and not theatrics.

It will likely require weeks of work, rather than a weekend of photo-ops.

It won't happen around a campfire at Camp David, in a secret room at an Air Force base, or - as much as I'd like it - over 18 holes of golf.

This will take time. But if we're all striving for a solution, I'm confident we can get there.

Mr. President, this is your moment.

We're ready to be led, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.

We want you to lead -- not as a liberal or a conservative, but as the President of the United States of America.

We want you to succeed.

Let's challenge ourselves to find the common ground that has eluded us.

Let's rise above the dysfunction, and do the right thing together for our country in a bipartisan way.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 8, 2012 7:52 AM.

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