CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And for all of that, I'm joined now by Alan Murray, Washington Bureau Chief of the "Wall Street Journal." Alan Murray, to the average citizen trying to follow all of this, what is the most important thing that they should know about today that happened today?
ALAN MURRAY: Nothing. I'm afraid nothing happened today of great significance. There was no progress on this. But the real thing that people need to keep their eye on or keep in mind is that this is just the pre-game show here. All we're talking about now is whether we can keep the government open for a couple of more weeks while they work out a budget deal. And what's so disturbing about all the invective and the vitriol and the name-calling that we've seen today--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And heard on this program.
MR. MURRAY: --and heard on this program is that it suggests that it is going to be extremely difficult for these people to get down to the much more difficult task of putting together a budget deal. And if they can't do that, I think there's going to be a great deal of disappointment out there.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What do people--what does the public need to know? We've heard a lot about this being a partisan food fight, a schoolyard fight, a skirmish, but also we've heard that this is very important. I mean, what do people--how do people look at all of that, the political side and the philosophical battle, I mean, how do they view that?
MR. MURRAY: Well, let's start with the politics. There is an enormous political game going on here. The President is trying to convince people that he's going to stand up and be the great defender of senior citizens. He's not going to let anything happen to Medicare, hoping that he can win some new voters in 1996, some elderly people. The Republicans, on the other hand, are--want to convince people that they're going to do what they came here to do, which is--which is balance the budget, and so right now, what you're seeing is primarily jockeying. But the big question is, we have seen in this town for 15 years an effort to get this budget deficit under control with very little progress, and now we have an opportunity--it may well be an historic opportunity--to do it and to do it with an agreement between a Democratic President and a Republican Congress. And that may be what's being sacrificed in, in the political game playing and the invective that we're seeing today.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So what are the stakes now?
MR. MURRAY: The--at stake is, is can--will the two sides agree to a budget agreement that gets you to zero in the year 2002? If they don't, you could see a jump up in interest rates, you could see some serious effects on the economy.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We heard some of that earlier. What is likely to happen tomorrow? I mean, we've heard all about what happened today. Now, what is the next step?
MR. MURRAY: My understanding is Sen. Dole, for instance, would like to get a deal to keep the government going so he can go to Florida and participate in the straw poll. President Clinton would like to get a deal to keep the government open so he can go to Japan. I'm even told that Speaker Gingrich has expressed some willingness to cut a deal, and so there is going to be an effort to put this thing together. The problem is you've got a big group of people in the House of Representatives that think compromise is a four-letter word, and that makes it difficult to put the whole thing together.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Right. The Speaker said on the program that this could go on weeks or months. I mean, how long can it go on?
MR. MURRAY: It could go on for weeks. It could go on for several weeks. The essential services are still operating. It would become a huge nuisance to people out there, and as you heard tonight, it also increases cynicism about government.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But is there any kind of ticking clock out there that's working in the backs of their heads that says we got to get this done either because we're going to make the public more upset or something to move this?
MR. MURRAY: There are no drop-dead dates. We are not going to have a default, which we heard a lot about in the last few weeks. The Treasury has taken care of that. We can probably make it through February without increasing the debt limit. Sure, passport offices will be closed. Other areas will be closed. Speaker Gingrich said tonight that if anything becomes a big problem, they'll put in a discreet piece of legislation to open up that part of the government, so I think we could continue to operate like this for some time.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Al Murray, thank you.
MR. MURRAY: Thank you.