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Senators Weigh in on Budget Hurdles and Fiscal Compromises

Judy Woodruff talks to Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., on where the budget battle is headed next, whether Sen. Ted Cruz's effort to stall was worthwhile or political theater, and whether they think Congress will prevent a government shutdown.

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    We return to the fight here in Washington over funding the federal government, now that an effort to stop the measure as long as it includes money for President Obama's health care reform law has failed.

    A short time ago, I spoke with two senators who have been working with their parties and the White House in hopes of a broader fiscal solution.

    Joining me here in the studio is Republican Ron Johnson from Wisconsin and, on Capitol Hill, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia.

    Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.

    Before I ask you, Senator Johnson, about the spending bill, let me ask you about what Senator Cruz did, 21 hours on the floor. You didn't speak out in support of him. Do you think what he's done is helpful to the Republican goal of defunding Obamacare, the president's health care reform?


    Well, Judy, I appreciate any effort that highlights, really, the harm that Obama is going to do to our health care system, to our economy, to just average Americans.

    So, listen, when somebody's sitting on the floor for 21 or 22 hours, you're certainly drawing attention to the law that — Republicans are totally united in wanting to repeal it, to defund it, to do whatever we can to limit the damage to the American economy caused by the health care law. So…


    So, did he help that cause?


    I think he probably did.

    We certainly have — this whole defund effort has certainly raised the issue of Obamacare, together though with the fact that unions now have got a great deal of concern about it. They're asking for the law to be changed. Some of them are close to actually calling for its repeal. So, what's basically happening here is President Obama delayed its implementation.

    Now that this law is being implemented, Americans are starting to see the damage it will cause.


    Senator Warner, from your perspective, what did Senator Cruz accomplish?


    I think we saw a piece of political theater that is probably going to mean you're going to end up with a shutdown of the government for a couple days, as we send these bills back and forth, and an awful lot of folks around Virginia are going to wonder why did we have to go through this exercise.

    I mean, if somebody wants to sit down and have a legitimate conversation about what's good and what's bad in the affordable health care act, that's a valid debate. The kind that let's hold hostage the whole federal government because the president was reelected, the law was affirmed, the law was passed seems to me to be the kind of, again, political actions that got the vast majority of Americans turned off on everything that goes on in this town.


    So, Senator Johnson, is a government shutdown now more likely because of what's happening in the Senate? It's assumed the Democrat-controlled Senate is going to strip out the defund health care reform piece of this. It's going to go back to the House. Is that what you expect to happen? Is a shutdown more likely?


    I hope not.

    Listen, I have been arguing within our conference and to anybody who is willing to listen we should have been passing continuing resolutions. We, first of all, should have passed appropriation bills. Realize the United States Senate hasn't passed an appropriation bill in over two years. So we should have been doing that back in the summer, but where we're at right now.

    And so certainly in the past, what we have done passed one- or two-week continuing resolutions to allow us to get through the time process where we can get a longer continuing resolution, but, Judy, this is a terrible way for a government to function. It's hard to convey the dysfunction that is Washington, D.C. So kind of one of my messages to the American public is stop relying on the federal government to solve all your problems. They're pretty incapable of doing it.


    Where do you see this going right now, Senator Warner, now that the Cruz effort is behind the Senate? What happens next?


    You know, I think that we will go through a couple more votes, send it back over to the House. They will have to decide whether they take that or throw it back and start another clock running.

    But, you know, this affects people's lives. We're going to have a whole lot of civilian defense employees sent home and not get paid. Admiral Gortney down in Norfolk today said if Congress doesn't get its act together, all the soldiers and sailors in Hampton Roads will have to report, but they're not going to get paid. This is not the way to run the largest enterprise in the world.

    And, you know, one of the things I think Ron and I — we may have disagreements, but I would concur that we ought to have a budget. We had it. We actually passed a budget. Ron didn't agree with it. But we can't even get the budget conference together so the House and the Senate can try to work this process through.

    And it makes no sense to me to continue to operate this government — Ron was a business guy — I was a business guy before we went into politics — operate this government on three-week, six-week, nine-week continuing resolutions, when no efficient business would operate that way. So I'm pretty discouraged.

    I have been involved in any bipartisan effort since I have been here to try to get our balance sheet right. End of the day, this problem is not going to get fixed. This really isn't about Obamacare. It's about, how do you get our balance sheet right? And that means we're going to have to deal with entitlements, and the Democrats are going to give on that, and we are going to have to deal with tax reform to generate more revenues. Republicans are going to have to deal on that.

    If not, we are going to see the same movie play out time and time again.


    But, in the short term, Senator Johnson, do you see fellow Republicans in the House, whether Tea Party or other fiscal conservatives, who feel strongly about this budget, who feel strongly about health care reform not going along with a final spending bill and therefore the government shutting down?


    Well, I have worked an awful lot with my House colleagues to try and determine — develop strategies that would actually work.

    So I think what's going to happen is they're going to hopefully provide some kind of continuing resolution and package it up in a form that Harry Reid basically has to say yes, and President Obama is going to be willing to sign it. Again, I…


    Including funding of Obamacare, the health care reform.


    Well, again, I think we're going to run that process out. I don't see the prospect that Harry Reid will pass a defund law or President Obama will sign it.

    And possibly we can work with members of the Senate to delay Obamacare. President Obama's pretty well implicitly acknowledged the fact that Harry Reid and Max Baucus was right when they say the implementation of this is a train wreck. He's delaying all kinds of different portions of Obamacare, without the legal authority to do so, I might add. So maybe we could get Democrats to agree with at least a one-year delay.

    This law is not ready for prime time. Maybe that would be a compromise. But, in any event, I don't want to play brinksmanship with the American economy. I know Senator Warner doesn't. And I don't think very many Republicans do. So let's get past this time frame, this period right now. But we have to start addressing our long-term entitlement problems because it's bankrupting this nation.


    I'm asking you to project what may happen in the House, Senator Warner, but your fellow Democrats in the House, do you believe they're prepared to go along with Speaker Boehner if he tries to get this budget — this spending proposal through and needs Democratic votes in order to do so?


    I think if he needs Democratic votes to accept a — what I think the Senate will send over, a short-term funding mechanism that allows us to have further debate on the health care bill at another time, yes, I think that Speaker Boehner will get the votes.

    I guess one of the things — I feel there are some good things in Obamacare, there are some bad things in Obamacare. Today, it came out in Virginia that we're going to actually have competition in a whole lot of parts of Virginia that never had private health care insurance competition in the past.

    We saw a lot of the rates for the 20-odd percent of Virginians that are going to be eligible to get into this marketplace, a lot of these rates are going to be actually lower than what's offered right now.

    Are there things that could be changed in Obamacare, things like the disincentive to hire full-time workers? Absolutely. And let's have that debate.

    But this kind of all-or-nothing approach that at least some members of the Senate and some members of the House are proposing, I think, is a political theater that really jeopardizes what meager recovery we have going on right now.


    Very quickly to the two of you, what some members are even more concerned about is the debt ceiling. We heard from the Treasury Department today that it's just a few weeks away from the country — the government exceeding the permitted debt ceiling. Do you think we're going to see another showdown like this over that, Senator Johnson?


    Judy, any time the president comes to Congress asking for the authority to increase the debt burden on our children and grandchildren , we should have a debate. We should have discussion.

    And if we're going to increase that debt burden on our kids and grandkids, there should be something given in exchange in terms of some level of fiscal discipline, so, yes, I think there's going to be a debate.


    Senator Warner?


    Listen, I laid out a plan that was based on the Simpson-Bowles plan, the so-called gang of six plan, that would have got us where we needed to go. It wasn't perfect, but it showed real entitlement reform and real revenue generation.

    That's a fair debate. But to basically put in jeopardy at this moment with the world economy teetering the full faith and credit of the United States and to have members of the Senate — and Ron Johnson isn't saying this, but there are members in both bodies who are saying this wouldn't be a problem if America defaulted.

    There is no great industrial nation that has ever defaulted. And I don't care whether it would be a President Obama or a President Romney. I don't think anyone should be playing politics with the full faith and credit of the United States of America.


    We're going to leave it there.

    Senator Mark Warner, Senator Ron Johnson, thank you.



    Thank you.

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