TOPICS > Politics

House Moves to Avert Shutdown for Two Weeks, But Battles Remain

March 1, 2011 at 6:17 PM EST
The GOP-led House passed a bill that extends the government budget for two weeks and cuts $4 billion from this year's spending. Senate leaders and President Obama have expressed support for the bill. Judy Woodruff talks with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Rep. Allen West of Florida about the agreement.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. House of Representatives took a critical step forward today in averting a potential government shutdown.

WOMAN: A joint resolution is passed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The two-week spending bill approved today was supported by nearly all House Republicans and a majority of Democrats. The stop-gap measure would extend funding for the federal government through March 18 but cut $4 billion in spending. On the chopping block: $2.7 billion in money directed by members to home state projects, $650 million in highway funds, and $368 million from the Department of Education.

GOP representatives like Georgia’s Tom Graves said it was time for Congress to learn how to live within its means.

REP. TOM GRAVES (R-Ga.): Well, I want the American people to know this: that there are more spending cuts on the way. Now, some of my colleagues on the other side, they will say, you know what? We don’t need to cut spending.

In fact, we have heard that. And we have heard that they want to freeze spending instead, which is akin to tying a brick to the accelerator of this vehicle that’s going off the cliff, when we need to take our foot off that accelerator.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some Democrats, like Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, argued the cuts would hinder the country’s recovery from the recession.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-Md.), House minority whip: Democrats believe that spending cuts are part of the solution. Let there be no mistake. We need to cut spending. But we also believe that those cuts must be smart and targeted, not pegged to an arbitrary number.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama and Senate Democrats had wanted a four-week extension, but Republicans held firm to their shorter timetable.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said today the Senate would act swiftly to pass the House version.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-Nev.), majority leader: I’m anxious to meet with McConnell and Boehner and anyone from the White House at any time. We need to work our way through this. But the sooner we get this short-term funding of the government done, the quicker we can move to a long-term C.R.

JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama joined the negotiations personally today when he phoned House Speaker John Boehner.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney described the conversation as a good and productive call. That came after Boehner commented that the president’s involvement should have come sooner.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-Ohio), speaker of the House: If there had been a conversation about this 10 days ago or two days ago, you know, we might have had something to talk about. But the fact is, is that we were forced to move on our own. I think we’re taking a responsible path forward to keep the government open and to meet our commitment to cut spending.

JUDY WOODRUFF: With a two-week agreement seemingly taken care of, lawmakers will now make another run at a long-term plan to keep the government running through September.

Joining us from Capitol Hill is Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Senator Durbin, thank you for being with us.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-Ill.), majority whip: It’s good to be with you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, we don’t know the long-term outcome, but, in the short run, is this a victory for House Republicans, and especially for the Tea Party, that they were able to get $4 billion in cuts in just two weeks?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, I guess they could claim a victory if they’d like, but I don’t think it’s much of a victory.

I hope everyone agrees, Republicans in the House, as well as the people across America, that shutting down the government is not a good idea. This notion of when the next Social Security check will arrive, whether the troops will be paid, whether there’s enough equipment, whether air traffic controllers will show up for work, it doesn’t speak well of our government.

At this point, we have a two-week agreement. We will move forward. I certainly hope we can reach a much longer agreement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as you know, the House Republicans want another $57 billion, at least, in cuts. The Democrats are saying, freeze spending at current levels. That’s a pretty wide gulf between the two of you. Do you see coming — coming down somewhere in the middle — $30 billion?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: I will tell you, now that I have been home and take a look at what the House Republican budget does to our economy in Illinois and our jobs in Illinois, I certainly don’t believe we should be moving in this direction.

Remember, the Democrats in the Senate have already cut, with this new $4 billion, $45 billion from the president’s budget request. The House Republicans are insisting on $100 billion. But if they would go home and take a look at what it does to the jobs in their districts and states, I think they might have a different view.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, are you saying the Democrats — you don’t want to see the Democrats move at all in the direction of the cuts the House Republicans want?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, I will tell you, we have already moved in that direction.

What I’m saying is we need to draw the line. We can’t kill the things that are critical for this economy, like education and job training, research and innovation, and basic infrastructure that we can build the economy of the 21st century on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Republicans, as you know, very focused on the debt. They talk about a $1.6 trillion debt. What cuts are the Democrats prepared to make?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: We have already made $45 billion in cuts. So it isn’t a question of a good-faith effort to reduce the deficit.

But remember, all of the Republican cuts are coming out of 14 percent of the budget. They’re taking it out of domestic discretionary programs. They’re cutting things that frankly have been struggling to survive anyway. Instead of looking at defense spending, instead of looking at entitlements or taxes, they’re focusing on 14 percent of the budget. It is not a balanced approach to dealing with a serious national debt problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, they seem pretty implacable, Senator. How do you see this getting resolved?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, it gets resolved when people of goodwill sit down and act like grownups.

It means that both sides have to listen to the other and try to work out differences. Today, we basically heard from Speaker Boehner: It’s over, no more conversations. You came too late. You should have been here 10 days ago. We reject your offer. It’s two weeks, and that’s it.

That’s not a good starting point. We need a much more positive view, if you will, of a relationship between the House and the Senate and the White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we heard — you mentioned, I think, Speaker Boehner. He said today that this could have at least been a four-week extension, if — something a little bit better than this, if, he said, President Obama had gotten involved earlier.

And then we heard Senator Reid, your majority leader, say he believes the president is going to get involved in a way of taking this decision on cuts to the American people. What is meant by that?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, the president plays an important role in this.

The president has stepped back and allowed Congress to work its will. But there will be a point where the president steps up and says, this is what we need to do to move forward. And I think his voice will mean a lot. We want to get this economy moving forward and create jobs. It isn’t just about bragging rights on a number when it comes to budget cuts.

It’s making certain that the cuts are thoughtful. The idea of eliminating funding for research across America, medical research, how can that make any sense whatsoever? A 10 or 20 percent cut in medical research at the NIH? Saying to the national laboratories, where critical research in energy efficiency is under way, that we’re going to basically close down half of their programs for the remainder of the year — that’s not a thoughtful approach to deficit reduction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, do you think it’s realistic to expect the Republicans to come down from $57 billion or $60 billion, where they are now, to the freeze?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: I think it’s realistic for them to sit down and bargain in good faith, to listen to us, as we listened to them, to decide what is best for this economy.

As I said, if this is about bragging rights for the biggest number in cuts, then we have lost sight of our responsibility to make a serious judgment about whether a cut is important to the future of our economy or it is not. One hundred billion dollars in a short period of time doesn’t show the kind of reflection and thoughtfulness the American people expect of Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Dick Durbin, the majority whip in the Senate, thank you very much.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And turn now to the U.S. House of Representatives for a Republican point of view. And that comes from Tea Party-backed freshman Congressman Allen West of Florida.

Rep. West, thank you for talking with us.

REP. ALLEN WEST (R-Fla.): Thank you for having me, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Perhaps you just heard Sen. Dick Durbin, the minority — majority whip in the Senate, say that the Democrats have already given. He said: We have already cut $45 billion, and the greater cuts that you and other Republicans want cut into people and programs in the greatest need.

REP. ALLEN WEST: Well, I think that’s pretty much a disingenuous statement that he made.

You will have to understand, when the 112th Congress showed up, we showed up without any budget. We also knew that we had to do something about the spending. For the past three years, we have seen $1.42 trillion, $1.29 trillion and now $1.65 trillion of deficit.

Over the past four years, we have been five trillion dollars of new debt added. The American people know that we have to start tackling this spending problem up here in Washington, D.C. And I think we have been very reasonable.

As a matter of fact, you look at the GAO report that came out today with all the duplicitous programs that we have up here, estimated between $100 billion and $200 billion. So, I think that the Senate Democrats need to understand that the $57 billion to $60 billion now that we’re talking about is nothing compared to what we have just seen happen today with this report.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Rep. West, we also have not only the Democrats, but I guess dozens of economists came out with a statement today saying that these kind of deep cuts will do harm to the economy just at a time when it is struggling to break out of this recession, to get into a more robust recovery.

REP. ALLEN WEST: Well see, I don’t understand the comments you’re talking about with Goldman Sachs. And we know that they have some very serious problems with some of their estimates up there as well.

But when we’re talking about cutting it back on government spending, we’re talking about putting money back into the pockets of the American people. We’re talking about putting money back into the pockets of our small businesses. We need to look at how we can lower the corporate business tax rate, so that our corporations can grow.

If we are cutting back on the growth of Washington, D.C., and this bureaucratic nanny state, that will only benefit the recovery of the Main Street of the United States of America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you don’t see cutting programs — I think Sen. Durbin mentioned cutting medical research, cutting infrastructure that cities and localities need around the country as programs that are needed?

REP. ALLEN WEST: Well, there are some programs that came up as part of the amendment process, some of the Community Service Block Grants, that I thought were not necessary to be cut. And I did not.

But I think that, when you look at what we sent forward, those are very good, very well thought-through cuts that the American people have supported. Look, we have to start somewhere. And if we continue down the road — we can’t just have a freeze of current levels of spending, because this is what got us into this situation as we are in right now.

So sometime we have to begin to turn around the process of out-of-control spending up here in Washington, D.C. The American people are going through and they’re looking at the budget. And they’re finding out these programs that need to go away. And they’re expecting us to do the exact same thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you the same question I just asked Sen. Durbin. And that is, where is the middle ground here? You and other Republicans in the House asking $57 billion, $60 billion in cuts — the Democrats in the Senate and otherwise are saying, we want a freeze.

I mean, are the two sides going to come together? Are you going to be able to sit down and have this adult conversation that some people are calling for?

REP. ALLEN WEST: Well, I think the adult conversation comes in listening to the will of the American people.

And I think that, also, when you look at some of the things that happened in the previous Congress, there was not a call for compromise. There wasn’t a call for negotiation. A lot of legislation got rammed through on closed rules.

But now, all of a sudden, we hear this thing about meeting together and finding a middle ground. We have — you know, we have found ourselves put in a very, very dangerous situation as far as our economy. And we — if we’re going to have any type of recovery going forward, we have to tackle this thing. It is called spending cuts.

And the Democrats need to understand that their policies of out-of-control spending, the stimulus spending, which was about $1 trillion, that failed. And they’re the reason why we have these out-of-control deficits, the debt and this high unemployment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Most of the negotiating, we assume, is going to be going on between the Senate and the House by your House Republican leadership.

Are you prepared to go along with recommendations made by the House leadership, smaller cuts than what you and others who have been backed by the Tea Party want, if that is the only way to avert a government shutdown?

REP. ALLEN WEST: I think that the House Republican leadership is going to stand firm.

And the only ones that are talking about a government shutdown are the people on the other side. This is political gamesmanship, trying to recreate the events of 1995. We came up with a solution today to make sure that we can continue to operate this federal government, keep it funded, but also tackle once again the problem of spending.

And that was the $4 billion that you saw, bipartisan, it passed. Now we need the Senate Democrats to step up to the plate, show leadership, and do exactly what the American people have willed in the House of Representatives. And we need the president to do the exact same thing and not play this game of Russian roulette with the American people and our economy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But just very quickly, as we know, in any negotiation, both sides have to give. Is your side prepared to give?

REP. ALLEN WEST: I think we have already given. I think the American people have given, and when you talk about the exorbitant spending and the debts and the deficit the American people have given, and they’re tired of it.

It is time for us to step up as leaders and as adults, as you said, and tackle these hard problems, and stop looking for the easy way out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rep. Allen West, we thank you very much for talking with us.

REP. ALLEN WEST: Thanks for having me.