05/09/2013 03:09 pm ET

John Boehner Embraces Obama's Talking Point In Debt Debate

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been increasingly adopting one of President Barack Obama's key economic talking points on austerity, and he did it again Thursday -- much to the joy of Democrats who fear the GOP is pushing Congress to legislate the country into another economic showdown.

The line -- which Obama has been using as a counterpoint to the constant Republican demand to cut the budget -- is that "We can't cut our way to prosperity."

Boehner has used the phrase a smattering of times, with the first coming last year, according to Nexis and Google searches that also found numerous references to Obama using it. The president took up the phrase in a big way following the introduction of Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" budget in 2011.

Boehner uses the line to argue that while Republicans think spending is the government's biggest problem, they also realize that simply eliminating things won't fix the economy. It's not clear that all of the GOP's members agree with Boehner on cuts, but he does favor, beyond cuts, pursuing a tax reform effort as long as it doesn't raise new taxes.

He rolled the line out Thursday after using it in an interview Wednesday -- while also noting that Republicans do not yet have a plan for dealing with the nation's impending borrowing limit.

"Dealing with the long‑term structural spending problem we have is -- frankly is at the core of it," Boehner told reporters. "But we also know we can't cut our way to prosperity. We need real economic growth, and that is why you continue to hear a lot of discussion about tax reform, regulatory reform that would help us produce more economic growth here in our country."

The phrase almost immediately caught the ear of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has been locked in a battle over the last several days with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to appoint a conference committee with the House to pass a budget. Reid and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said they suspect McConnell is blocking the conference committee because Republicans mean to extract concessions from Democrats in a showdown over the debt later in the year.

Reid took Boehner's use of Obama's attack phrase as a sign of hope. "There [are] some bright rays of sunshine," Reid told reporters. "For the first time that I have heard the speaker say, and he said it within the past hour, 'We can't cut our way to prosperity.' I agree. We agree. That's why we should sit down and negotiate."

A GOP leadership aide said it was a mistake to read too much into Boehner's statement, arguing that he's been using it for a while.

“Boehner has used that phrase for years," the aide said. "Senate Democratic press staffers either can’t work the Google machine, or they’re trying to play reporters for suckers.”

Using Nexis and Google, the earliest instance HuffPost was able to find of Boehner using the phrase was May 8, 2012. He's rarely used it since then, until recently, according to searches.

Boehner's partner in the Senate, McConnell, actually cast aspersions on the phrase in a speech last November, panning Obama for saying it over and over.

"Instead of a showing faith and a willingness to solve the problem, we get the same tired talking point -- that we can't cut our way to prosperity. Well, that may poll well. But it isn't a plan," McConnell said. "It's a cliche that's meant to shut down debate and prevent a serious proposal from ever taking shape."



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