Calamity John

House Speaker John Boehner either wasn't listening to the warnings issued by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke during his testimony in the House of Representatives last week or doesn't care.

The head of the Fed talked about the generally positive signs for the economy. It continues to expand. The housing market has improved significantly. And while job growth is not where it needs to be, it is trending in the right direction.

In his carefully chosen style, Mr. Bernanke cautioned that Congress is the biggest potential calamity that could derail the recovery.

"I hope very much that (the debt ceiling) issue can be resolved smoothly. It could provide some shock to the economy if it got out of hand," he said.

In other words, don't mess things up with some unnecessary fight in the congressional sandbox. So what did Speaker Boehner do Tuesday? He kicked some sand.

"We're not going to raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending. It's as simple as that," said the Ohio Republican at a press conference. A debt ceiling fight would arrive around Labor Day.

Was he just tossing some red meat to the radical fiscal conservatives in his caucus? Or is the speaker really prepared to spook the markets and stall a recovery that is putting Americans back to work?

And the fight he is eager to have is needless. Short term spending is not the problem, Mr. Bernanke testified. That is why the across-the-board spending cuts required by sequestration are a needless anchor on the recovery. And it is why Speaker Boehner's idea - any increase in the debt limit be matched with equivalent spending cuts - is not economic medicine but poison.

"I think fiscal policy is focusing a bit too much on the short run and not enough on the long run," Mr. Bernanke said. In terms of a federal chairman getting involved in a policy debate, that is about as demonstrative as it gets.

What could really get the economy going is Congress demonstrating it can work with the White House on a grand compromise of comprehensive tax policy changes and spending entitlement reform that lowers the long-term deficit projections.

But in Speaker Boehner's opinion, a vigorous recovery is apparently not good politics.

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