SIEGEL: Now, a member of the House Republican leadership, Representative Peter Roskam of Illinois, is the chief deputy majority whip, he joins us from Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program.
Rep. PETER ROSKAM (Republican, Illinois): Thank you.
SIEGEL: First, the McConnell plan, is it, as Speaker Boehner said, a piece of good work, a backup that may prove necessary or as the conservative website redstate.com put it, the Pontius Pilate pass the buck act of 2011?
Rep. ROSKAM: I think it would be tough to pass it in the House. I think it's an effort of Senator McConnell to move things forward. I think that there is a real concern about giving that type of authority to anybody, including the president of the United States. And based on conversations I've had with current members of Congress, I think it's unlikely that that would pass the House.
SIEGEL: Unlikely or simply a non-starter in the House, period?
Rep. ROSKAM: Well, there's not much daylight between unlikely and non-starter.
SIEGEL: Okay. Let's talk about the alternative to not having anything, to not having any agreement. Fed Chairman Bernanke is the latest voice warning that not to raise debt ceiling, to invite a default or nonpayment of bills would be catastrophic. Some members of your caucus, Michele Bachmann, Congressman Ron Paul, say that's all scaremongering.
Where do you stand on that? How would you describe the danger, the potential danger of not increasing the debt ceiling come August 2nd?
Rep. ROSKAM: I think there's two areas of tension that the country is trying to navigate through right now. One is recognizing that the debt ceiling needs to go up, but the other is the alternative. And the alternative is just passing a clean debt ceiling and moving on a trajectory of spending that is clearly unsustainable, 40 cents on the dollar being borrowed by the federal government this year and a weakening dollar worldwide.
So I think the wise course of action is to recognize that there's two challenges and try and reconcile them. Make sure that the federal government doesn't default on its obligations, clearly, but also make sure that the current pathway is a pathway that changes. And I think that's what the 2012 election was all about.
SIEGEL: You mean the 2010 election was all about.
Rep. ROSKAM: 2010 - I'm sorry, 2010.
SIEGEL: Another way to think about it is, you'll increase the debt ceiling, you won't be able to accomplish either what you or the president would like to do and that's what the 2012 election will be about.
Rep. ROSKAM: Yeah. I mean, it will be largely a referendum question, but in the interim, I think what most folks are looking at Washington and feeling very disconnected from it. They're looking and saying, in our own businesses, in our own homes we're making decisions that are based on the reality of the bottom line and it's tumultuous and difficult.
SIEGEL: Yeah, I don't hear you saying, though, ah, the debt ceiling, it's a technicality and the Social Security checks will go out and let's not get carried away with Doomsday scenarios. I don't hear you saying, you can't do that.
Rep. ROSKAM: That's correct. I'm not saying that. So what I'm saying is, I think we've got these two issues that have to be resolved and I think we can do it. I think reasonable people can come together. It's my hope that President Obama moves off of this notion that somehow the remedy is to raise taxes on what I would characterize as job creators and that we could concentrate in on making the cuts that are appropriate that get us to live within the debt ceiling.
SIEGEL: The situation you've described is completely consistent with the most pessimistic readings of what's happening right now, that there are two different problems and we can't reconcile them together and solve them both. And yet, you're hopeful, for some reason.
Rep. ROSKAM: I'm hopeful. Look...
SIEGEL: What's happened to give you this sense of optimism?
Rep. ROSKAM: Well, look, we're a nation of 300 million people. We've been on the cusp of all kinds of challenges in the past. We can figure this out, but of all things, if we want to see growth, if we want to move past the 9.2 percent unemployment number that we're stuck at 27 months after that stimulus was passed and 12 months after the so-called recovery summer, tax hikes can't be a part of this mix.
SIEGEL: Congressman Peter Roskam, thank you very much for talking with us.
Rep. ROSKAM: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois, is the chief deputy majority whip. That is, he's a member of the House Republican leadership. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.