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POLICY INSIGHT
BEYOND THE NUMBERS

The Extremist Boehner Rule

Some House members are urging Speaker John Boehner to resurrect the so-called “Boehner Rule,” which demands that policymakers accompany any increase in the debt limit with equal or larger cuts in spending.  The Boehner rule would require the most radical transformation of government in nearly a century, producing policies that can only be described as extremist, as we explain in an updated paper. The Boehner rule would require new spending cuts in any year in which the federal debt grows in dollar terms, even if it is stable or shrinking in relation to the economy. And, while savings from cutting programs that are critical for future economic growth or serve the poor would count toward complying with the Boehner rule, savings from curbing unproductive, special-interest tax subsidies wouldn’t. The Boehner rule is so restrictive that even the very ambitious budget plan from Fiscal Commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson — which would shrink the deficit to less than 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) before the end of the decade — falls far short of meeting it.  The Boehner rule would require about $2 trillion more in program cuts over the next ten years than Bowles-Simpson. Ultimately, it would compel policymakers to adopt cuts of unprecedented severity, like those in the House-passed budget resolution from Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, which would cut spending by about $6 trillion (including interest) over 2014-2023. The Ryan budget would cut non-defense discretionary programs by more than $1 trillion below the stringent Budget Control Act caps, replace guaranteed Medicare benefits with “premium support” vouchers and raise Medicare’s eligibility age, add 25 million people to the ranks of the uninsured by repealing health reform, turn Medicaid and SNAP into block grants and drastically cut their funding, and significantly cut other programs serving low-income Americans. Followed to its logical conclusion, the Boehner rule would radically transform government, dismantling many of the social advances of the past half century or more and paving the way for large increases in poverty and inequality. If we head down this path, we will become a different nation — coarser, harsher toward the vulnerable and people who experience what FDR termed the “vicissitudes of life,” unable to invest adequately in our future, and willing to tolerate levels of poverty and inequality that are present nowhere else in the Western world.