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How will shutdown stalemate shape future negotiation in Congress?

October 10, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Is the political standoff that caused the government shutdown indicative of the future of negotiation on Capitol Hill? Judy Woodruff discusses factors that have contributed to the conflict Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and former congressman Tom Davis of Deloitte & Touche.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We return now to our lead story.

With the government shutdown in its 10th day and stark political lines drawn, we explore some of the underlying forces at work.

For that perspective, I spoke a short time ago with a former member of Congress and a longtime observer of Capitol Hill.

Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute is the co-author of a book titled “It’s Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism.” And former Congressman Tom Davis is a Republican from Virginia who now is director of federal government affairs for Deloitte & Touche.

Gentlemen, welcome back to the NewsHour to both of you.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, American Enterprise Institute: Thank you.

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TOM DAVIS, former U.S. Congressman: Thanks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Tom Davis, the ice has apparently cracked, at least for some Republicans. They’re offering a short-term deal on the debt limit. Where is this headed, do you think?

TOM DAVIS: Well, I think we’re headed for — to get a short-term deal.

I think at the end of the day, it’s going to — you will get a C.R. as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Continuing resolution.

(CROSSTALK)

TOM DAVIS: Yes, I think so. It just makes sense.

But you have to start somewhere to end up somewhere. Everybody is scared to death at the debt ceiling. Nobody wants to be held accountable for what happens after that and what happens to the country. And I think their Americanism has briefly taken over their partisanship on that particular issue.

The C.R. is a little more — to some members who have very little government…

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, again, that’s the spending, yes.

TOM DAVIS: Well, yes, continuing the spending issue, a lot of members in the Republican Conference don’t feel that as much in their districts.

But remember this: You have got 25, 30 members that this is hurting them. They’re in marginal seats. They have a lot of federal employees and they’re tired of going along on this. They want the government opened.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Twenty-five or 30 Republicans?

TOM DAVIS: Right, in swing seats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Norm, could this be the beginning of a resolution or what do you think?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: The problem with the deal as it’s been presented is, it leads us to more brinksmanship in six weeks or so.

The initial deal that was proposed by Paul Ryan and then Speaker Boehner was to take a six-week extension in the debt limit, but to take away all the flexibility from Treasury during that period of time, and in effect saying, we’re going to go right up to the cliff, you better make some changes before then. It’s more, do this or else.

And if we do get a resolution that reopens the government, it eases the pressure a little bit. The problem is, you have got to find a deal where at least each side can say we have held firm on what matters. And we’re not there yet.

The speaker, it hasn’t been clear what he wants or what they will do. And if you put all of the big spending issues on the table along with revenues, we’re not going to resolve that in six weeks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s broaden this out.

Tom Davis, what are the pressures on the speaker right now, and is there anything he could or should have done differently to head this off?

TOM DAVIS: The main pressure is, he’s got 80 percent of his caucus are from absolutely safe Republican districts who go home and talk to nobody but Republicans and the Republican base.

 

And they are telling their members, stand tough, don’t compromise, we want to get rid of Obamacare, don’t give into the president. For them, it’s a win-lose proposition. For this to work, it has got to be a win-win proposition. The president opened the door yesterday when he said he would negotiate over the sequestering, but those discussions can be broadened to include other things. So he’s given an opening. At least they’re talking.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But help us understand though, Norm. If the speaker couldn’t have done anything different, was this just an inevitable moment we were coming to?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: It really wasn’t an inevitable moment.

And the sad thing to begin with is that we actually had a deal on the table that the speaker had agreed to, to keep the government running for another year. And it was one where the Democrats had given in on all the spending numbers that Republicans wanted and keeping the sequester for the year.

Then the speaker came under pressure from Ted Cruz and a group of others to instead say, no, we want to end Obamacare. That took us down a different path. If the speaker had held firm on that, we might be in a different place.

Having said that, once you have pressure once again to use the debt limit as a lever and as a hostage, finding a way out of that that doesn’t have most of your members upset is a really tough sell. And one of the things that — Tom said, nobody wants to go over the cliff.

One of the things that’s got me concerned is, there are plenty of numbers and others outside saying, no big deal, go ahead and default, and that that’s dangerous.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much — how much influence does the Tea Party have going forward in your party, in the Republican Party?

TOM DAVIS: Well, look, the party was — it was a skeleton after the Bush years. You had gone through the problems with the war. You had — which was unpopular. You had an economic meltdown. You had Katrina. And they just rushed in and filled that void at this point and they added energy to the party, and basically in many areas took over the nomination process and elected their people.

And they have been given political muscle through some of these outside political action organizations that have added money to the grassroots.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying they’re here to stay?

TOM DAVIS: Yes, I think there’s a — listen, I think there’s a

danger for Republicans here, that if they spurn the Tea Party, you could get a spinoff.

You’re seeing this in some states, where libertarians are running and taking 6 percent, 8 percent, 10 percent of the vote from Republicans. It cost us a Senate seat in Montana, almost cost us a seat in Arizona last time. So Republicans have to be very, very careful with this.

And I would just add one other thing. You have to understand, from a Republican perspective, you only have two pressure points where you can change the trajectory of spending. And that is your annual appropriations and the debt ceiling.

So it’s not the best choices, but they’re the only pressure points you have. Otherwise, you’re talking to a wall.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Pressure points when there’s a Democratic president.

TOM DAVIS: When you’re surrounded by a Senate and a president of the other party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Norm, are we looking at just a steady — just one showdown, maybe even shutdown of the government after another going forward?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: I hope not, because, of course, the great irony here is, if you care about spending, shutting down the government is extraordinarily costly. It’s costing us billions a week to do this, not to mention the human cost.

And the threat of default itself has already caused interest rates to inch up, which is going to be costly to the government, to people getting mortgages and to the state of the economy. But, you know, Tom is right that those are the pressure points. The difficulty we have is, the current Republican Party is using the debt limit in a way that it hasn’t been used before, as a real throat go into default, as a method of extortion.

That’s something that can’t go on and we have to change the method of negotiating. What I had hoped they would do is create a permanent solution, like the one Mitch McConnell used to get us out of the last deadline in 2007, basically let the president pretty much raise the debt ceiling and have only one-third of the members of one house required to do that, and then move to a different plane.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Davis, he’s saying they’re using it differently this time and in a dangerous way. How do you see it? Do you see this just continuing?

(CROSSTALK)

TOM DAVIS: It’s the only leverage point you have, raising the debt ceiling.

And the public doesn’t understand. If you’re raising the debt ceiling, then make sure we don’t have to go through this again. Can we find some offsets? It is a chance to have a conversation and to change the trajectory on spending.

But Norm is right. You get too close to the edge on this thing, it has desultory effects on markets, on the economy, on the average person, and on the federal budget. So, in a way, if it’s handled wrongly, as I think we have come close to doing this time, it hurts what you’re trying to fix.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Grim message from both of you.

Tom Davis, Norman Ornstein, we thank you both.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Thank you, Judy.

TOM DAVIS: Thanks.