What Is John Boehner Missing About the U.S. Economy?

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave a speech in Washington D.C. last week containing a five-point assessment of America’s economic future and where he feels the nation should be headed. The speech is of particular note as it hints at things to come after the dust has settled post-midterm battle.

One or two of his five points deserve acknowledgement for containing ideas worthy of consideration. However, some of the five are also loaded down with a hefty dose of the partisanship that has tortured Congress so much in the last year. And if you read between the lines, slice off some of the padding and rephrasing, they’re rather reminiscent of some of Boehner’s less careful comments. Here’s a surgical breakdown of Boehner’s position, down to the bare bones — broken and sturdy alike.

1. Tax code

Reforming the U.S. tax code as a general necessity is something that both parties can get on board with, and as a tax payer it’s difficult not to empathize with Boehner’s suggestion that “our tax code is terrible. No one understands it, certainly not the IRS,” and that over the years it’s become riddled with unnecessary and inappropriate complexities that are not neatly tailored to have the effect they were intended to have. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is very much in agreement with Boehner on two points.

The first is that the U.S. tax code is a “rotting economic carcass that’s infected with chronic diseases like loopholes and inefficiencies,” he said, according to Forbes, and the second, that corporate inversions are problematic. The difference here, though, is that Boehner skirts around inversions, calling them a “symptom” rather than the real problem, suggesting that an overhaul of U.S. tax code should be much larger than dealing simply with inversions and “fix the whole tax code” to “make it pro-growth and pro-families.” Not the most specific plan of action — anyone can say they hope their reform will encourage growth and help families. The specifics — the little parts and pieces — are what must be dealt with one by one in order to bring about a wider “whole tax code” reform.

Corporate inversions are tax rules that allow U.S. businesses that have relocated overseas to avoid paying taxes on their earnings from foreign countries, though not on their U.S. earnings. What this does is to incentivize leaving the country — something Boehner freely points out. However he’s looking for bigger bill — which is certainly understandable — but there’s something to be said for doing both, and doing both at the same time is only liable to lead to gridlock if Congress is split again next year.

One of the few items both parties can agree on may be difficult to reform given the difference in preferred strategies. Both parties agreed that healthcare needed to be reformed, and look how that turned out. Both parties are in agreement on the need to reform America’s immigration system, and there certainly isn’t much headway being made there either.

2. The spending problem

Oh dear. This is where echos of government shutdown start to bounce about once more as Beohner addresses government spending and “entitlement programs.” The good news is that Boehner and Republicans as a whole make valuable points as to America’s spending and its national debt. And Boehner is right to voice concerns about the number of retirees and and elderly living beyond what our system was designed to manage.

That said, taken as a whole, his commentary suggests a similar game of “what to cut?” will wage in December when the the Continuing Resolution ends and opens the way for this year’s budgetary battle.

3. Reforming the U.S. legal system

There’s a great irony in Boehner’s critique of legal spending in America. “Americans are spending more per person on litigation than just about any other country, and it’s not even close,” said the House Speaker — here it comes — who, coincidentally, is spending about $500 an hour, with a cap of $350,000, to sue President Barack Obama. Though, with the contract being moved over to a different law firm after the previous one removed itself from the case, it’s possible Republicans can score a better deal. Then they’d be one step in the right direction towards lowering legal expenditure!

4. Bank regulation and the Dodd-Frank

Here again we see a general desire for reform of big banking regulation that could be matched by both sides of the aisle, with an offhand mention of specific reform — the Dodd-Frank Reform and Consumer Protection Act — that Democrats have been hesitant to change.

And there is certainly room to improve upon current regulation given time and slow back-and-forths between the House and Senate where both are willing to tweak. Still, while Boehner may call federal government regulation “coercive, combative, and very expensive,” many Democrats would argue Republicans have a soft side for the financial sector and big banking as a whole — especially when it comes to who helps fund campaigns.

5. Education

The statistics listed by Boehner were just a few of the many demonstrating major problems with the U.S. education system — and this is a bipartisan viewpoint. As a nation, the U.S. is falling behind in education, both in how many students are reached and in the test scores children get compared to other nations.

He lists the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program as a highly successful program created in Washington D.C.. The program helps students from families who would otherwise not be able to afford private school, to pay for the fees involved — which while certainly helpful for the thousands who benefit is hardly a solution to those public schools that are so bad as to motivate parents to place their kids in private schools in the first place. The program itself phrases this a little more carefully, saying, “Our program offers families the ability to enroll their children into schools that best fit their student’s needs, particularly those who would otherwise attend schools identified as in need of improvement under section 116 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.”

Yes, if the program is expanded to other states, it would unquestionably help more kids gain access to an education they could not receive in their districts — and by all means, do so. It would not solve the core issue, though, and it would not help millions of students in need of educational reform and opportunity. It would only reach a select few and would leave many students without access to the kind of funding, resources, and quality that private schools or nicer districts might have.

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