Today’s Matt Lauer discusses Pakistan with Speaker John Boehner to start off this Today interview, but the talk quickly turns to the budget. Lauer asks the depressingly silly question of whether the post-Osama operation “unity” will disappear in the upcoming debate over the budget, a question which Boehner wisely ignores. Lauer then says that the debate over the debt ceiling will make the fight over the FY2011 budget look like “child’s play,” to which Boehner agrees. This is the main event in fiscal policy, and it will take a titanic struggle to find our way through it. It’s an opportunity to finally address the decades-long habit of spending more than we have, and we cannot put off that debate any longer.

How much room will Boehner have in negotiating? Declaring himself “a regular guy with a big job,” Boehner declares tax hikes “off the table.” Lauer tries offering a misleading statistic to force Boehner to defend the Bush tax cuts, using unemployment numbers from June 2001 and comparing them to today’s rates. The tax cuts to which Democrats object passed in 2003, not 2001 (which lowered the top rate to its current 35% and reduced capital-gains tax rates), and unemployment at the time had gone into the 6% range. It resulted in an explosion of job growth that only ended in 2008 with the housing bubble’s collapse.

Boehner has declared tax hikes “off the table,” but says everything else will be up for discussion — everything else necessarily being spending cuts, especially in entitlements.

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Update: My apologies for the headline error. I was analyzing the Bush tax cuts when I wrote it. Boehner put tax hikes off the table, not tax cuts.