JUDY WOODRUFF: To politics and some possible movement on Capitol Hill that might avert a government shutdown.
The months-long battle over spending cuts appeared to edge closer to a resolution today, as the White House announced that House Republicans and Senate Democrats were moving toward compromise. The potential deal would reportedly trim $33 billion from current spending levels.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, now, the two sides have to figure out how to get there.
SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., majority leader: This isn’t just about dollars and deficits, Mr. President. It’s about principles and priorities.
What we cut is much more important than how much we cut. We will continue talking and continue working to find a middle ground. Again, Mr. President, we have agreed on a number. We haven’t agreed how to get to that number. I hope an agreement can be reached as how do we get to that number. But it will not come on the backs of middle-class families and the jobs they need. And it will not come if the other side continues to insist on unreasonable, Tea Party, unrealistic cuts.
JUDY WOODRUFF: After meeting with House and Senate leaders on Capitol Hill Wednesday night, Vice President Biden said both sides were — quote — “working off the same number now.”
But at a Thursday morning news conference, House Speaker John Boehner said such talk was premature.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, speaker of the House: There’s no agreement on numbers. And nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to. We control one-half of one-third of the government here, but we’re going to continue to fight for the largest spending cuts that we can get to keep the government open and funded through the balance of this fiscal year.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tea Party activists are demanding that Republicans stick to their campaign pledge to cut $100 billion from President Obama’s 2011 budget request, which Congress never passed.
House Republicans approved a measure last month that would reduce spending from current levels by $61 billion. The administration and Senate Democrats are touting the tentative agreement, with $33 billion in cuts, as meeting Republicans halfway.
But at a midday rally on Capitol Hill, hundreds of Tea Party supporters joined a half-dozen Republican lawmakers to voice opposition to any compromise.
SALLY OLJAR, Tea Party: The Tea Party is asking for the House of Representatives to fulfill the promise it made to us in the November elections. They promised to cut $100 billion in spending, and that’s what we expect to have cut.
BART PELSTRING, Tea Party: We have got to start somewhere. And, you know, it’s a drop in the bucket, when you think of all the money that’s wasted in D.C. and all the money that goes down the drain.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who chairs the House Tea Party Caucus, told the crowd to keep up the fight.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-Minn.: They’re afraid of you because you’re powerful. So, I’m here to give you a message.
Stay courageous. And I know you will. Don’t back down. And I know you won’t. We will stand for cutting the size of government. We won’t change our principles.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Some Republicans are also demanding that certain policy provisions inserted into the original House bill be preserved, among them, defunding Planned Parenthood and blocking the government from implementing greenhouse gas regulations.
At the White House today, Press Secretary Jay Carney said those should not be part of the current debate.
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: This is not the appropriate vehicle, a budget resolution, a budget funding bill, to — on which to stack a lot of contentious, ideological or politicized issues that, honestly, will derail the process.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Lawmakers must pass an agreement by April 8, when the current spending stopgap measure expires, in order to avert a potential government shutdown.
I spoke a short time ago with Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland and Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana.
Senator Cardin, Representative Pence, good to have you both with us.
SEN. BEN CARDIN, D-Md.: Thank you.
REP. MIKE PENCE, R-Ind.: Thank you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me start with you, Congressman Pence.
On the one hand, we have Vice President Biden saying both sides have made progress; they’re aiming for 33 billion in cuts. On the other hand, your colleague, Speaker John Boehner, is saying there hasn’t been an agreement on anything. Which is it? What’s your understanding?
REP. MIKE PENCE: Well, it feels a little bit like the old parlor game in Washington, D.C., where one side leaks a number to the press in the hopes that it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But, look, it’s good news that discussions are under way, but it’s also good news that House Republicans are determined to take a stand for fiscal discipline, keep our word to the American people, and do what we said we’d do, which is that we would take spending levels down to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels. That will require $61 billion in budget cuts.
We also passed provisions to defund Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood. We’re fighting for those provisions. And we’re going to continue to fight to them right up to April the 8th.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Cardin, what’s your understanding of what’s really going on here?
SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN: Well, I think there’s some good-faith negotiations taking place.
Look, it’s not going to be what the Republicans want. It’s not going to be what the president or the Democrats want. That’s what a compromise is about. But at the end of the day, this budget can only pass if Democrats and Republicans are willing to work together and to pass it.
Quite frankly, I think the challenge is going to be in the House as to whether Speaker Boehner can move a bill that may not enjoy the support of the members of the Tea Party. And that’s — they’re not writing it. It’s going to be the legislative process that’s going to come up with a compromise.
Remember, we’re dealing with 12 percent of the federal budget. I hope that we can come together on this year’s budget, and then let’s work together and get a credible plan that reduces our federal deficit. You can’t do it on the domestic spending side alone. We have to — you have to broaden the discussion.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Rep. Pence, I heard you use the number $61 billion again — or a moment ago. And the Tea Party folks, they were protesting in Washington today, demonstrating. They’re saying no compromise.
Is that — is that your position? Is that the position of the Republicans in the House, that all the give has to come from Democrats?
REP. MIKE PENCE: Well, we think $61 billion was a compromise.
We had an unprecedentedly open process for a resolution of this nature. We had, I think, more than 90 hours of debate. Amendments, many amendments, passed on a bipartisan basis.
And — but, now, I got to tell you — and I was at that Tea Party rally today, Judy. And I want to agree with something the senator just said. And that is we have some big issues to take on. We got to debate budget process reform and debate a debt ceiling. We have got to create a budget in this Congress. We didn’t do one last time. We have got to do one that takes on even entitlement reform.
But I think — I think it’s absolutely imperative that we take this important, modest first step toward restoring some fiscal discipline in this process. And Republicans keeping the word, keeping their word to the American people, I think, is an important and vital first step.
There may be details. There may be room for negotiation. But the overall number and the key policy elements, defunding Obamacare, defunding abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, Republicans are going to keep fighting, and fighting hard.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So — so, Sen. Cardin, we hear — you hear Mr. Pence and others on — in his party saying they have done their giving, and the rest of it is basically got to come from the Democrats.
SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN: Well, it a bicameral legislature. It’s not just the House. The House and Senate need to come together on this.
And, look, I’m saying that we need to come together. We’re all going to have to give. But it’s not going to be one side dictating what’s going to happen. We have some very strong views about what was in the House-passed bill. That bill, to us, was extreme. It would have jeopardized our recovery. It contained a lot of policy riders that had no business at all in the budget bill.
So, there’s a lot that we feel very strongly about, and we’re going to fight on the principles to make sure we do what’s right for, not only fiscal responsibility, but for America’s future. But for the sake of the process, we have got to come together.
Now, you can make safely all the statements you want, but at the end of the day, it’s in the interests of the American people that the Democrats and Republicans come together, and that’s what we’re trying to do. But look, if the House Republicans take the position that it’s only what the Tea Party wants, it’s going to be a tough battle.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what the House Republicans are saying, Congressman Pence?
REP. MIKE PENCE: Well, look, we’re taking a stand for the American people.
And when you have got a $1.65 trillion deficit, $61 billion in budget cuts is hardly extreme. It represents — I don’t even know if it’s a down payment. It might just be earnest money on fiscal discipline. But we’re going to dig in and we’re going to fight for these things.
And the — the so-called policy riders that are controversial, I guess that — I guess that funding Planned Parenthood in this resolution is not a policy rider but defunding Planned Parenthood is a policy rider.
Look, we’re going to hash these things out. But we’re going to fight for what we believe the American people want us to do and that is defend the treasury, defend their values, and defend future generations.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you about that, the so-called policy rider, policy provisions, defunding Planned Parenthood, defunding health-care reform. Are those really germane to the budget bill?
REP. MIKE PENCE: Yes, sure. Well, they’re spending. Of course they are.
I mean, to say that defunding Obamacare or defunding Planned Parenthood is not germane to a spending bill, you may as well say that funding Obamacare and funding Planned Parenthood, as we do to the tune of about $350 million, is not germane.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well…
REP. MIKE PENCE: Look, all — all spending decisions are policy decisions. The senator knows that. Everybody knows that. I appreciate the rhetorical jousting over policy riders and that, but this is all about spending and it’s all about policy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Cardin, what about that? I’m hearing a different tune from each of you on this.
SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN: Well, we have legislative committees that have jurisdiction over these areas. I thought that the Republican leadership in the House believed in regular order.
Regular order allows these matters to go to the committees of jurisdiction to debate these issues. Let’s talk about it. Let’s have an opportunity to offer amendments on these subjects. Let’s work between the House and Senate, and let’s talk about the policy direction of America.
But right now, we need to complete this year’s budget that started October 1 last year, that ends September 30. We’re committed to making sure we get that budget done. And let’s get that done, and leave these policy issues for the debate, as it should be, in the committees doing regular order.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Rep. Pence, if it comes to this or a government shutdown, what is your position?
REP. MIKE PENCE: Well, look, if liberals in the Senate want to play politics and shut the government down instead of embracing what are very modest budget cuts in this fiscal year, then I say shut it down.
Look, the American people know we’re facing a fiscal crisis of unprecedented proportions. And while $61 billion is almost just a rounding error in that fiscal crisis, I think it’s an important first step. I think this is a defining moment. I think House Republicans understand that. We’re going to stand with the American people and fight to make this down payment on fiscal discipline.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Sen. Cardin, last word.
SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN: Democrats are prepared to negotiate in good faith. We’re not prepared, though, to give up the rights of the United States Senate or the rights of the American people.
We will negotiate. We will come — we will make compromises. But we’re not going to just say that, whatever the House or Republicans want, it’s going to become the law of the land.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And a shutdown vote?
SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN: We’re going to do everything we can to avoid a shutdown. A shutdown makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. We need to avoid it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, we’re going to leave it there, but we are going to watch this very closely in the hours and days to come.
Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. Mike Pence, thank you both.
REP. MIKE PENCE: Thank you, Judy.