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Reps. Clyburn, Roskam Debate Thinking Behind Debt-Ceiling Showdown

May 31, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
House Republicans late Tuesday were staging what would be a largely symbolic vote on a bill ostensibly aimed at raising the U.S. debt limit by an additional $2.4 trillion, but without any spending cuts. The measure is not expected to pass. Judy Woodruff leads a debate between Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and James Clyburn, D-S.C.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: House Republicans have staged a largely symbolic vote this evening on a bill ostensibly aimed at raising the nation’s debt limit by an additional $2.4 trillion. The measure has no spending cuts attached to it and is, therefore, all but certain to fail.

Earlier today, at a White House news briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney said that deficit-reduction talks between the administration and Congress are making progress, but, ultimately, he said, the ceiling will have to be raised.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: We also believe quite strongly that we have to raise the debt ceiling — there is no option to doing that — and that that will happen, because the economic impacts of not voting to raise the debt ceiling would be calamitous.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we now head to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, where we are joined by leading members from each party to tell us what’s behind tonight’s vote.

Representative Peter Roskam of Illinois is the chief deputy Republican whip and he sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. And Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina, he is a member of the bipartisan deficit group being led by Vice President Biden.

Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.

REP. PETER ROSKAM, R-Ill.: Thank you.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN, D-S.C.: Thank you for having us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Congressman Roskam, to you first.

Almost all the Congress-watchers we have been talking to say this is a purely symbolic vote, with no real substantive meaning to it.

REP. PETER ROSKAM: Well, it’s very substantive, in that it’s the request of the president of the United States. It’s one that he has affirmed over and over and over again. And that is to simply raise the debt ceiling without any reforms or no substantive spending cuts.

And I think in order to move the debate forward, what we’re going to see today is that the country overwhelming rejects that approach. I predict it won’t pass, but it won’t just be — excuse me — it won’t just be Republicans that are going to vote against this. It will be Democrats that will vote against it as well.

But it’s on the floor because it’s the request of the president of the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But symbolic because Republicans don’t typically say — salute and do exactly what the president is asking.

REP. PETER ROSKAM: Right. We’re a co-equal branch of government, but I think, in order to move the debate forward, there’s got to be an end to this idea where the White House just continues to say, give us more authority to spend more money, without setting up a substantive plan to cut the deficit and to bring things into balance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Republican leaders, Congressman Roskam, apparently didn’t want to rattle the financial markets. You scheduled — you’re scheduling this vote late in the day.

And I would reading today — we know that you were told — that Wall Street was somehow told, reassured that this was a symbolic vote. And my question is, how were they — was Wall Street reassured? There was a Chamber of Commerce official who was quoted as saying, “Wall Street is in on the joke.”

REP. PETER ROSKAM: Well, I’m not aware of any substantive conversation. I don’t know either way whether any kind of phone calls were made.

But I think most folks on Wall Street recognize the foolishness of moving forward and simply, without any precondition whatsoever, giving the White House more authority to spend more money. So, they probably are in on the joke. And I think, ultimately, it’s the American public that says, this has to stop.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Congressman Clyburn, your party has — has said that this is a vote that’s all for show. And yet, it was a majority of Democrats who just last month said they wanted a stand-alone vote on the debt limit. And still, your leadership is telling Democrats tonight to vote no.

So, which is it?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: Well, I’m going to vote no.

And I’m going to vote no because it is a joke. The fact of the matter is the letter that went out, I think, got mischaracterized by a lot of people. That letter, signed by more than 100 Democrats, asked our caucus to come out in support of a clean vote.

It didn’t ask the Republican leadership to put that on the floor, nor did the president ask them to put it on the floor. What we know is that this vote is not about things going forward. It’s about the capacity to pay the debt currently owed.

And I think that if more people understood that that’s what we’re doing here, trying to prevent a default on debt that we currently owe — this has absolutely nothing to do with our spending going forward.

And so, I…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But…

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: … believe that, if you were to characterize it correctly, the American people would have a different attitude about what we’re doing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Congressman Clyburn, won’t the result of this vote, if the majority does vote no — and I guess that’s the expectation — won’t that show that you won’t have a debt ceiling vote, increase vote, without spending cuts to match it?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: Well, as you said earlier, Judy, I am a member of the deficit reduction committee that’s chaired by Vice President Biden.

We are making significant progress. The whole atmosphere in the room for every meeting is a very good one. And our staffs are meeting this week. We will begin meeting again next week when the Senate returns. And I think we’re making great progress.

And we have been told that we will have until the end of July to get something done. So, I think that we ought to let that process go forward. We ought not be taking these kinds of sham votes and misusing the process, because that’s how the public gets misinformed about what we’re doing, is when we do things that we know are not serious, and we ought not to be playing games with the American people this way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, however it’s characterized, Representative Roskam, we heard the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, say again today that there’s no alternative to raising the debt ceiling, that anything other than that would be calamitous.

Do you agree with him?

REP. PETER ROSKAM: I agree that the president of the United States, Judy, needs to come forward with a plan, a plan to address the reality of where we are right now.

So far, President Obama has given a speech, while we say very simply, Mr. President, please give us your plan that can be then scored by the Congressional Budget Office and evaluated. I’m all for meetings in rooms with good atmospherics, but when it comes down to it, we need the president to lead and to articulate a plan, because absent a plan there’s really no appetite right now to deal with it.

And it’s very important that the president lead with a plan ultimately to bring this country back into balance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — but isn’t that what these negotiations under Vice President Biden are all about? And do I hear you saying that — that raising the debt ceiling may not have to happen?

REP. PETER ROSKAM: No, what I’m saying is, any raising of the debt ceiling has to be preconditioned upon cuts that drive towards a real economic recovery and long-term growth and prosperity and job creation. The whole notion of just simply moving along and giving the White House a blank check is a complete nonstarter.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, picking up on that, Congressman Clyburn, we know that your colleague Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic whip, has said that many — that everything has to be on the table in these talks going on under Vice President Biden, including Medicaid. Is that something that you accept?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: Let me remind your listeners and watchers, Judy, last November, the Democrats addressed Medicare in the continuing resolution that we passed.

And that continuing resolution had a $500 million cut in Medicare. Didn’t cut one dime out of Medicare benefits. It cut $500 million out of the providers’ side. So, I think that we have demonstrated that we know how to address the Medicare problems, and we can do so without cutting one dime out of benefits.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But don’t…

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: This thing of just cutting benefits, inflicting pain on seniors, is something Democrats are not going to do. So, I’m not going to…

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you disagree with your colleague Mr. Hoyer, who says that — that additional cuts in Medicare have to be on the table?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: Well, I’m not disagreeing. I didn’t hear what Mr. Hoyer had to say.

I’m just saying that we have demonstrated that we know how to deal with Medicare without affecting benefits of seniors at all, because we demonstrated that last November. And, I might add, the Republicans used that against us in their campaigns last November, when they knew full well that they were not telling these elderly the truth about what we had done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there. We will certainly be coming back to this. And we will be watching this vote tonight very closely.

Congressman Peter Roskam, Congressman Clyburn, we thank you both.

REP. PETER ROSKAM: Thank you.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: Thank you so much.