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From Left and Right, Opposition to Debt Deal Remains

August 1, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
As the Senate prepares to take up a compromise bill to raise the national debt ceiling, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are noting their opposition to the compromise. Jeffrey Brown discusses the opposing arguments with Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now two leading voices from the left and the right that remain opposed to this agreement.

Congressman Raul Grijalva is a Democrat from Arizona and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Representative Tim Huelskamp is a freshman Republican from Kansas and a Tea Party conservative.

I spoke with them this afternoon before the House vote.

Mr. Huelskamp, I will start with you.

Your own Republican leadership says this is a worthy deal, one that has the votes to pass. Many would say you and others in the Tea Party largely dictated the terms here, with no revenues, no tax revenues, for example. So why not declare victory and vote for it?

REP. TIM HUELSKAMP, R-Kan.: Well, I’m looking for a solution that actually works and avoids a downgrade.

I’m very fearful that, despite this package, if it would pass, we would have a credit downgrade. And that’s something I want to avoid. And S&P and Moody’s have been suggesting that might be possible. And, you know, if things aren’t quite good enough and, you know, it doesn’t stick to the principles that I was elected on, I think it’s time for a no and looking for a better package that will solve the long-term problem we have as a nation.

JEFFREY BROWN: You think, even if this is passed, we might still get a downgrade?

REP. TIM HUELSKAMP: Oh, I think that’s very possible and in fact very likely, based on the latest testimony we have had from S&P and Moody’s.

It wasn’t about the default. It was about our inability to put us on a trajectory to pay off currently a $14.3 trillion debt. It isn’t that we don’t borrow enough. It’s the fact that we have been spending too much. And that’s the message I have heard from the credit rating agencies.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Mr. Grijalva, from the other side of the aisle, you heard Jack Lew. You heard the president yesterday saying this messy, it’s far from perfect, but it’s a deal worth making.

What’s the principal reason that you oppose it?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA, D-Ariz.: The principal reason I think is, very fundamentally, this is not a shared-sacrifice deal. This is not a deal that — this deal tries to cut its way out of the situation.

There is no revenue generation, which was one of the pillars that we insisted on. This commission is setting up with a stalemate with six and six, and then automatic cuts go into place and programs that we care about and have been defending, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, then suddenly become an across-the-board item for cuts.

So — and the scenario Mr. Lew was talking about how this commission would function ignores the reality. We have a divided Congress. And six and six is not going to guarantee a bipartisan Camelot. There are still going to be differences.

And so when it comes time, we’re going to be faced with across-the-board vote — cuts. And that is — for many of us, it is going to hurt jobs. And it does not deal with the growth and the need for jobs in this country.

JEFFREY BROWN: So you don’t think that you can revisit the tax revenue, other questions, you say, of fairness later on with this commission?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: No, I don’t. I don’t think my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are going to appoint six people that are willing to look at that, number one, and so there’s a stalemate.

Number two, the issue that will be on the table will be entitlements. And that we’re going to resist. There’s a stalemate. So, it just sets it up for across the board, a very easy, convenient way that takes Congress out of the very tough decisions that we need to make and puts it in the hands of a committee, a super-Congress, as I like to call it, that is going to be making all the decisions.

That’s not part of — that’s not a deal. It’s not a compromise. It’s a capitulation on the part of our leadership, and the majority of the members of the Progressive Caucus are not going to support it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Mr. Huelskamp, what do you think of this second round, this committee? You probably disagree on everything with Mr. Grijalva, but perhaps maybe some of this you might agree on. Do you think that it’s a recipe for a kind of deadlock that he says?

REP. TIM HUELSKAMP: Well, I think it’s a budget gimmick. And it’s the responsibility of 435 members of Congress and 100 members of the Senate to find a solution long term.

And I’m afraid we have not found that solution. We can agree or disagree, but, fundamentally, it’s elected folks who are — have to make the right call. And so we have had 17 budget commissions, select committees, what have you, since 1982, and we have got this enormous debt. And I don’t think that is the answer. The answer is just getting our job done.

Americans have tightened their belts over the last few years. They have been fighting to keep their jobs. They have been trying to balance their budgets. They expect Washington to be helping out and doing the same. And I just frankly don’t think this is going to work either.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Grijalva, where does this leave you and the members of your caucus vis-a-vis the leadership in your party and then, of course, in particular President Obama?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Well, I think it demands of not only the members of the Progressive Caucus, but certainly in the White House, that the negotiations side of this whole equation is not working out for us. And I think the president needs to utilize his 14th Amendment prerogative if there is no vote, if this doesn’t come to pass.

And, second of all, he needs to be an advocate. If we are going to talk about a balanced and shared-sacrifice approach, then the American people have to chime in. And the way to chime in for the president to be an advocate and to lead them into that process.

JEFFREY BROWN: And how serious a matter is this for you? For example, if you were the deciding vote tonight in this decision, do you think it’s worth risking the default?

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: It’s not a question of risking the defaults.

I didn’t lead us to the water here. This has been an issue and an agenda for my friends in the Tea Party. They won. It’s theirs to pass or defeat.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Mr. Huelskamp, what if you were that deciding vote?

REP. TIM HUELSKAMP: Well, I mentioned a downgrade is very possible of our credit rating, about 70 years of AAA rating, that we certainly didn’t meet the obligation to avoid that, the downgrade, from what I’m hearing.

But a default was unlikely. We have enough revenues to pay our creditors. That’s about 10 percent of our revenue each month. So, it wasn’t an issue of default, but an issue of making certain we meet our commitment to the American people, we meet our obligations, and we find a way to pass a balanced budget.

That’s a fundamental requirement that Americans follow through every day. And, frankly, I just don’t think this did enough. And the folks that loan us money around the world, I think, come next week, they’re going to say the same thing, that this is not good enough in order to get our fiscal house in order.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, briefly, where does this leave you and your caucus vis-a-vis the majority — vis-a-vis the leadership?

REP. TIM HUELSKAMP: Well, I think we have changed the debate in Washington. Instead of talk of stimulus packages and where we could borrow and spend more money, now we’re talking about, how do we balance it?

And I think, fundamentally, we have an entitlement system that is unsustainable. We have 10,000 new retirees every day. And folks in Washington, before I got here, they didn’t set anything aside. We are in a pay-as-you-go system for Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security. And we need to make some significant changes if we want to protect that program for future generations.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Grijalva, briefly, it sounds like the prospects for larger-term questions are still going to be very difficult.

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA: Oh, no, this fight is going to be perpetual. The 2012 election will provide some definitive direction on the part of the American people on where we go.

And I think the issue in that election is going to be balance, where revenue generation and the need to get our fiscal house in order, they need to go hand in hand. They need to be coupled together. That’s part of the solution. And I think that’s going to be a defining issue in this upcoming election.


Raul Grijalva is the Democrat from Arizona, Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas.

Thank you both very much.