Budget Talks Continue Among Lawmakers

Originally published on April 6, 2011 9:40 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

We're at two days and counting and still no sign of a settlement to avert a government shutdown. It would happen at 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning. Talks continued in private between Republican and Democratic leaders. And on a trip to Pennsylvania today, President Obama warned about the consequences of a shutdown.

President BARACK OBAMA: I do not want to see Washington politics stand in the way of America's progress. At a time when you're struggling to pay your bills and meet your responsibilities, the least we can do is meet our responsibilities to a produce a budget. That's not too much to ask for. That's what the American people expect of us. That's what they deserve. You want everybody to act like adults, quit playing games, realize that it's not just my way or the highway.

NORRIS: This afternoon on Capitol Hill, House Speaker John Boehner accused the president of showing no leadership.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): Our goal is real clear. We're going to fight for the largest spending cuts we can get and the policy riders that were attached to them because we believe that cutting spending will lead to a better environment for job creation. We're continuing to have conversations with our colleagues in the Senate. I am hoping that they'll continue to go well.

NORRIS: And tonight, Speaker Boehner and his Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid, head back to the White House for their second meeting in two days with President Obama. Joining me now to discuss the politics of all this is NPR's Mara Liasson. And, Mara, how far apart are these two sides?

MARA LIASSON: Well, they're not very far apart on the numbers. It sounds like the Republicans are holding out for about $40 billion in additional cuts for the rest of this fiscal year. The Democrats wanted 33, but there is still that question of the policy riders that you heard John Boehner talked about. Those are things like defunding Planned Parenthood or National Public Radio or the EPA. They want those in there, the Democrats don't.

The big question is, what number of Republican votes is John Boehner willing to live without? If he insists on getting 218 Republican votes, in other words, making a majority without relying on Democratic votes, then it's going to be much harder for him to compromise.

NORRIS: And angry people in his party. Everyone says they want to avoid a shutdown, but it doesn't appear that everyone is acting they really want to avoid that shutdown.

LIASSON: Well, there's a difference of opinion on the political consequences of a shutdown. Tea Party groups aren't worried about it at all. As a matter of fact, their battle cry is cut it or shut it. The White House is wary of the political consequences. They've seen the polls that show people think both parties would be blamed if there was a shutdown.

John Boehner, who lived through the last shutdown in 1995 when the Republicans were blamed, are worried that his party will bear the brunt again. But the bottom line is that Washington will look dysfunctional if there's a government shutdown.

If our elected representatives can't bridge their differences on one percent of the federal budget on a bill for the last seven months of one fiscal year, how will voters, and more importantly, financial markets, react to that at a time when they're trying to evaluate how able our political system is to grapple with the much bigger, longer-term fiscal issues like the deficit and the debt and entitlements?

I don't think they'll have any choice but to see a shutdown as an utter failure of leadership all around.

NORRIS: Let's stay with those long-term issues, Mara. Yesterday, House Budget chairman Paul Ryan came out with his 2012 plan. Where are we in that longer-term discussion? And how do the two debates affect each other?

LIASSON: Well, there was some thought that once Paul Ryan's budget was on the table and it represents a real conservative vision for the role of government, a drastically smaller public sector, many functions like health care for the elderly, Medicare essentially privatized, that vision would be so inspiring to the Tea Party freshmen, that it would help Speaker Boehner convince them to just declare victory on the short-term budget bill and move on to this much bigger, much more consequential battle. That hasn't happened so far.

NORRIS: And so it seems these budget issues are co-joined in some way.

LIASSON: They're all bleeding into each other. You've got the CR for the rest of this year. You've got next year's budget, you've got the debt ceiling vote that's fast approaching. Everybody says they want to deal with the bigger issues and now they're going to have to step up and do it.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.