WASHINGTON House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said on Wednesday that one of his top wishes for the new year is to help win passage of a bill to cut the record - and still mounting - U.S. debt.
Having tried and failed to do so this year despite efforts that included face-to-face talks with President Barack Obama, Boehner said he wants to give it another shot.
At a forum hosted by the Politico newspaper, Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, was asked what he would like to pursue during his second year as House Speaker.
"If I had my wish list ... I'd like to pass a large debt-reduction bill," Boehner said. "Our debt hangs over the economy and hangs over the American people like a wet blanket."
Obama and congressional Republicans fought all year over how best to tame a federal debt that recently topped $15 trillion while also spurring economic growth.
Last July, Boehner huddled at the White House with Obama over a potential $4 trillion deficit-reduction deal. But those talks ultimately broke down over disagreements on revenue increases and squeezing savings out of popular government healthcare and retirement programs.
Boehner's and Obama's 'Grand Bargain' deal would have included at least $800 billion in new revenues. But the Republican leader walked away from it after House conservatives in his party balked. He then blamed Obama, saying the president refused to go along with reforming the big benefit programs to save money.
Asked how he would advance a deficit-reduction deal next year, Boehner did not change the demands Republicans have made this year: reforming Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs for the elderly and poor and the Social Security retirement plan.
He did not signal any willingness to also consider tax increases on the wealthy, which Democrats have demanded.
Looking back at 2011, Boehner told Politico: "My biggest regret of the year was the president and I were unable to come to an agreement on raising the debt limit and taking a serious bite out of our debt."
(Reporting By Richard Cowan)