Boehner: Obama plan poor substitute for growth

WASHINGTON Thu Sep 15, 2011 4:31pm EDT

Speaker of the House John Boehner addresses the Economic Club in Washington September 15, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Speaker of the House John Boehner addresses the Economic Club in Washington September 15, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Republican in Congress on Thursday dismissed President Barack Obama's jobs-creation package as a "poor substitute" for policies that would boost the economy and ruled out tax increases as a way to close the country's budget gap.

In a high-profile speech, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner called on a special congressional committee to consider tax reforms that would close loopholes but not raise rates -- or tax revenues -- as part of its bid to cut the U.S. deficit.

Boehner's speech was a comprehensive statement of Republican economic principles as Congress works to bring down the stubbornly high 9.1 percent unemployment rate and tame the national debt.

Republicans have already said they do not support many elements of Obama's $447 billion jobs package and will not back the tax increases he has proposed to pay for it.

Boehner's comments indicated that the bill is unlikely to emerge from Congress in anything like its current form.

Even as Boehner said there were some opportunities for common ground, he indirectly criticized the temporary tax breaks that other senior Republicans had said they might support.

Boehner attacked "short-term gimmicks" and said a proposed tax credit for businesses that hire new workers would have little impact if employers were worried about other government policies. Washington's energies would be better channeled toward reducing regulations on business, he said.

"Let's be honest with ourselves. The president's proposals are a poor substitute for the pro-growth policies that are needed to remove barriers to job creation in America," he told the Economic Club of Washington.

Boehner said a newly created committee of Democrats and Republicans should try to simplify the tax code as it works to trim at least $1.2 trillion from annual budget deficits over 10 years.

But that overhaul should not bring more revenue to the government and the committee should focus only on spending cuts and benefit reforms to trim deficits, Boehner said.

TIGHT DEADLINE

The committee must finish its work by November 23, and many budget experts say it would be hard pressed to finish a comprehensive rewrite of the tax code by then. But the panel could lay out the broad outlines of tax reform and instruct other lawmakers to fill in the details at a later date.

Republicans and Democrats broadly agree on the need to eliminate some of the loopholes and exemptions that cost the government about $1 trillion in lost revenue each year.

But they disagree about the details -- particularly how much the tax system would raise in revenue, and what the top income-tax rate should be.

In negotiations earlier this summer, Boehner proposed an overhaul that would raise about $36.2 trillion over 10 years -- about $800 billion more than if temporary tax breaks, including the income-tax cuts put in place under President George W. Bush, were kept in place.

Allowing those tax breaks to expire would raise about $3.9 trillion.

During the negotiations, Boehner aides said the extra revenue would come not from higher rates, but from a healthier economy operating under a more efficient tax code.

"The Joint Select Committee has a huge opportunity," Boehner said of the deficit-cutting panel. "It has a chance to lay the foundation for economic growth by dealing with some of the obstacles that are standing in the way."

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Sandra Maler and Vicki Allen)

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