Boehner hits Obama’s ‘courage’ as debt passes $16 trillion

Olivier Knox

As the national debt swelled past $16 trillion, Republican House Speaker John Boehner accused President Barack Obama on Tuesday of lacking the "courage" to work with his political foes to rein in entitlement spending and overhaul the tax code.

Boehner also called passage of that symbolic threshold "another sad reminder of President Obama's broken promise to cut the deficit in half."

"This debt is a drain on our economy and a crushing burden on our kids and grandkids, and it's yet another indication that the president's policies have made things worse," Boehner said in a written statement.

The Obama campaign countered that when it comes to the debt, Republicans should be saying, "We built this."

Republicans have highlighted the fact that the national debt swelled about $5.3 trillion on Obama's watch, and accused him of adding to it with government spending like the $800 billion economic stimulus that was his first major initiative after taking office in 2009.

In the past, Democrats have responded to such charges by saying that the principal tributaries to the flood of red ink have been the global economic collapse of 2007-2008, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Republican-crafted expansion of Medicare coverage, and the Bush-era tax cuts, which Obama extended in late 2010.

"To tackle the debt in a meaningful way and help our economy grow, we need pro-growth tax reform, and we need to strengthen and secure Medicare and other critical entitlement programs," said Boehner. "Unfortunately, President Obama hasn't had the courage to join us in working on these common sense reforms."

Democrats have also placed the blame on Republicans—including Boehner—for the political stalemate that has jammed up any ambitious bipartisan plan to cut the debt. The White House, specifically, has accused Republicans of killing any such deal by rejecting tax increases as a component of a plan that would also include painful spending cuts. Republicans have countered that tax hikes on the wealthy risk drying up investment income they say would help grow the economy.

"The debt clock at the Republican convention was appropriately placed next to a sign that said 'We Built This,'" Obama campaign national press secretary Ben LaBolt said earlier Tuesday at a forum organized by ABC and Yahoo News.

"Congressman Ryan voted for the major drivers of the deficit during the Bush administration: those tax cuts for the wealthiest, the Medicare prescription plan that wasn't funded, and two unfunded wars," LaBolt said.

"The president knows that we need to take a balanced approach, that we need to reduce our deficit, and he's been working for action on this over the course of the past few years," LaBolt said.