Sen. Durbin on deal to avoid shutdown, debt ceiling debate, Build Back Better bill

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second highest ranking Democrat, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest congressional negotiations over government funding to avoid a federal shutdown, debate over the debt ceiling and progress in talks about the Build Back Better bill.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for more on where all those stands, we turn to someone in Senate leadership.

    He is Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second highest-ranking Democrat. And he joins me now.

    Senator Durbin, thank you very much for joining us again.

    We just heard Lisa reporting it looks like a deal has taken place. Is that your understanding?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL):

    It sure is.

    And Lisa's — I listened closely to her report, and it's very accurate, based on what we have just learned on the Senate floor. We're close to wrapping it up this evening. We have two votes ahead of us, Senator Lee on the vaccine mandates, and then final passage on the continuing resolution.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And does this agreement include an agreement on a debt ceiling, which, as you know, is something else that has been hanging in the balance?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    It does not include it, as far as I know. But it is in the works. And there is active negotiation between Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer. And I hope that they can reach an agreement by next week, so we can get that done as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're saying you believe they will?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    I — let me just tell you, you deal with vibrations in the Senate, good vibrations tonight.

    And the fact that, for the last two weeks, the two leaders have put their heads together is a positive thing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Durbin, let me ask you about the sticking point here, that 14 Republicans were prepared to hold this up, government funding up, because they don't like the idea of these vaccine mandates.

    We heard — we have been hearing now, despite the agreement, that what they were saying was Senator Roger Marshall, Senator Lee and others saying it's just not right that the federal government is forcing private employers, large employers, to have a vaccine mandate.

    How are Democrats going to deal with what appears to be an ongoing issue for Republican — a number of Republicans?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    It's an ongoing issue for the Republican base, but the vast majority of American citizens want people to be vaccinated to protect themselves, their families, and the people they come in contact with.

    And as far as the businesses are concerned, take a look at United Airlines. I think the latest number I heard was over 95 percent of their employees are vaccinated. They used this government mandate by the president as an incentive to get the job done. It means that it's a safer place to fly, and Americans know that.

    The same is true of businesses across the country. I think the Republicans are just flat-out wrong with this. And, sadly, their position is going to endanger the health of lives of a lot of Americans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how confident are you that in the days to come you will be able to hold off that argument that they are going to apparently continue to make?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Well, I don't know.

    and I will be honest with you. In the Senate, when it's a 50-50 vote, it only takes one person to cross over, so we will see. It's likely to come up this evening. It's likely to come up next week. The attendance is an important part of the vote issue. We will see what comes of it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, another issue, of course, before the Senate is the Build Back Better bill, priority for the president and for the Democrats right now.

    There's not only solid Republican opposition to that. You still have some Democrats who have issues with it, including your colleagues Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

    You said, I believe earlier today, that they — and I'm looking at what I saw — you were quoted. You said: "It's time for them to get on board with Build Back Better."

    Have you heard from them? Have you spoken with them?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    No, I haven't.

    We're being very careful in terms of negotiation. We're literally down to one or two votes as to whether this moves forward. It's a massive undertaking in terms of the impact on families across America who are dealing with the rising cost of living. We want to make sure that we help those families, and we need all 50 Democrats to make that happen.

    I don't want to jinx the deal by getting involved in it at some stage here and talking too much or too little. I think we're on track, but, ultimately, any single senator can stop this effort.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I want to ask you, Senator, about another aspect that's been a hangup in the Build Back Better bill. And that has to do with expanding the state and local tax deductions.

    Is that going to be in the bill, what some Democrats have urged?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    I think it will be. The exact language, I'm not sure.

    But here's what it boils down to, Judy. If you and I are paying our property taxes on our homes, the question is, should we be taxed by the federal government on the taxes we paid, a tax on a tax?

    We can just tell you, historically, the answer was no. We had an exemption. If you paid a tax, you don't have to pay a federal tax on that tax. And now the latest Republican undertaking four years ago in tax reform imposed a new tax on a tax. We're trying to get back to the stage where people don't have to face that double taxation.

    I support it. There may be variations on the theme as we get close to it, but I think the principle is sound.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of variations, we know the version that is coming — that came out of the House overwhelmingly would favor wealthier Americans. How much do you expect the Senate might reduce that?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    I don't know the answer to that. I know it's an issue in play.

    I'm sure that it will be discussed as we get down to the wire. Next week is really the key week when it comes to reconciliation, because we have had the parliamentarian, Senate parliamentarian. She's played an important role in deciding what issues are eligible for this bill.

    And then, after she's made her decision, we have got to make a final decision on what to present on the floor as early as the middle of December.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, Senator, I want to turn you to the question of COVID in your home state of Illinois, as the country now bracing for this new variant, Omicron.

    I was reading today that Illinois health officials reporting more than 6100 new cases, the most in a single day since January in your home state. Why to do you think this is happening?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    It's happening because everyone in America is not vaccinated. That would not be the end of the threat, but it would certainly lessen the likelihood that these variants would emerge or that we would be vulnerable to them when they did.

    Listen, when a group of Republican senators and the Republican Party decide on a political basis to exempt certain Americans from a mutual responsibility to one another, we pay the consequences. We face those consequences. It's unfortunate that this is a situation. We have to make the best of it.

    Those of us who are vaccinated have to encourage everyone who isn't to think about it again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, to those who say that not enough testing is part of the problem, what's being done to address that?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Well, a couple of weeks ago, I went over to Scotland to this meeting on the environment. In a matter of 24, 36 hours, I must have been tested six different times and reported to the British Health Service each time.

    It is true that other countries are clearly doing more testing, and we should too. I think it would be good for America, and I hope more people will cooperate. First, get vaccinated, but, if you don't, get tested regularly, and observe the most basic things about social distancing and washing your hands.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And have you said that to the Biden administration?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    I will. I'm sure that they agree with me. I don't think there's any difference of opinion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate majority whip, we thank you very much for joining us.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Thanks, Judy.

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