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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT

Deal or No Deal?

Aired April 8, 2011 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a special edition of PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT: countdown to chaos.

Will the most powerful government in the free world be shut down in less than three hours? Is it about money?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: But we're not going to roll over and sell out the American people. When we say we're serious about cutting spending, we're damn serious about it.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: They can keep their word and significantly cut the federal deficit, or they can shut down America's government over women's access to health care. If that sounds ridiculous, it's because it is ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: Or is it about ideology?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make no mistake -- this entire debate has included throwing women and children under the bus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What happens to our military families?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really live paycheck to paycheck every month.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Who is playing politics?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: President Obama is deliberately seeking to hold the men and women in uniform and their families hostage so the politicians can fight over the budget and use the threat of not paying the troops as their weapon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And what will it mean for you and your money?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like we're pawns, my family is a pawn in a political game. Now, I don't think it's very fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What you need to know about the U.S. government, closed for business.

This is a special breaking news edition of PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer, filling in for Piers.

Feverish, feverish efforts under way right now to stop what everyone in Washington deeply fears, a shutdown of the United States government.

Here with the latest, our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

We're seeing some members of the Senate there speaking on the Senate floor, Dana, right now. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Republican senator from Texas. She is speaking, reading letters from some of her constituents. This is going down to the wire.

What is the very latest, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The very latest, Wolf, is I'm actually standing here, John Boehner, the House Speaker's office is back there, one of his top lieutenants just came out and said there is no deal, no deal. And in fact, about 45 minutes from now, House Republicans are going to have a meeting so that at least the Republican leadership, the speaker himself, can update the rank-and-file on where things stand.

So, in terms of long-term, passing something that will actually keep the government running for the rest of the year, we're told no deal by the Republicans. I'm also told the same thing by a Democratic source in the Senate, no deal on that.

The next question is: OK, well, if the government is leaning -- going towards shutting down in three hours, well, can they at least do something to keep the government open short-term? I am also told by sources at both parties that there's no decision on that yet either.

There have been a whole host of options on the table, by various sides that you can -- that could potentially try to pass something that keeps the government open for one week. John King was hearing that that is a leading contender, that they're going to do. Other options that they have also drafted is maybe keeping the government open for three weeks.

So, those are some of the options that are out there. But, again, I'm told, even at this late hour, even with three hours left before major parts of the government shut down, no decision, even on a short-term, never mind long-term, a solution to this problem.

BLITZER: What you're saying, Dana, is that there's going to be a meeting, but you said this hour with the Republicans, the Republican Caucus, the Republican leadership.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: They're going to meet with the House Speaker John Boehner. I assume he's going to give them the latest on where the negotiations stand and he's going to ask them if they'll support what he has. And if they say yes, there will be a deal. Is that fair?

BASH: It could be if he's in the place where he can offer something. I'm told at this point that he's not -- that they're not close enough for him to actually say here's the makings of a deal, do you buy it for the long-term, that they're just not there yet -- they're close but just not there yet. He's been having regular meetings with his members. In fact, he had one earlier today, the fact that this is so close and members want to know what's going on, that's a big reason why they're meeting later tonight.

BLITZER: Dana, stand by. Let's go to the White House, Dan Lothian, our White House correspondent, is over there.

What are you hearing from your sources, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, lately, in the last few hours or so, things have been very quiet here. But there had been a sense of optimism that they were close to getting some sort of a deal done here.

As Dana was reporting, we're getting indications as well from Democratic sources that they're looking at a stopgap measure, perhaps three days or even a week, in order to sort of get this final deal buttoned up. You might recall that the president was opposed to a one-week C.R., continuing resolution, but said that he would -- he would entertain a shorter stopgap measure if, indeed, progress was being made towards a final deal. So, no word yet from the White House here as to how close they are. But certainly, there was this sense of optimism that they could get something done.

But, Wolf, as you know, we're going down now, a little less than three hours until the government will shut down -- a big concern here at the White House. First of all, they point out that hundreds of thousands of people will be out of work, that the fragile economic recovery could be further impacted. But also, they realize the political implications of this -- Americans unhappy with both Democrats and Republicans because they have not been able to get a deal done.

And certainly this is something that they're considering here, looking ahead to the 2012 elections, Wolf.

BLITZER: Either way, no matter what happens, is it fair to say that we will definitely hear from the president of the United States tonight, Dan, before this midnight deadline?

LOTHIAN: Wolf, the indication we were getting was that the president -- there was a good chance the president would come out and say something tonight. As you know, the last couple of nights, the president has come into the briefing room to make brief remarks -- not take any questions, but make brief remarks to continue to apply the pressure to lay out what is at stake here, if the government does shut down.

So, again, we're getting indications that there's a good chance we'll hear from the president. But then, again, perhaps, that all hinges on what actually happens.

BLITZER: Yes. I suspect we'll not only hear from the president, we'll hear from the Senate majority leader, we'll hear from the speaker of the House before this night is over with. We'll hear from all of them and many, many more.

Stand by, Dan.

Let's bring in John King.

John, what are you hearing? You've got good sources here in town as well.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, on that point you just made about when will we hear from whom. We're now told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the top Democrat other than the president involved in these negotiations, will speak at 10:30 p.m., 90 minutes from now. He was initially supposed to speak at 6:00. And then they moved it to 8:00, then they moved it back to 9:00, now it's 10:30. That tells you they're not done yet. It also tells you, though, they're still negotiating.

I was told a short time ago this evening that the most likely scenario was a one-week extension, a one-week extension. And then because they were close enough to feel confident with a few more days, they could settle the longer issue for six months.

Wolf, you know nothing motivates Washington more than a deadline. And you see that clock ticking, under three hours now. So, we will see if they get the motivation. Critical to keeping the government running now, critical to deciding how much they will cut from the government now -- but more importantly, Wolf, I think critical to seeing how this will play out in the much more consequential fights going forward. The debt ceiling, the government's ability to borrow, we are days away from the government running out of its ability to borrow.

The new Republican budget on the House side is very different from the president's budget. Huge decisions there about whether to fund the president's health care program or take away that money, to deal with Medicare, Medicaid, and other big spending issues.

The relationships here -- this is the first time the Democratic president with the new Republican speaker and a Democratic majority leader have tried to do big consequential business in this new divided government. And we're going to get here, not only an outcome in this one short-term budget fight, but a sense of the trust and relationship and the deal-making that these three leaders can make.

BLITZER: You've heard it and I've heard it from so many people here in Washington, John, that if there's no deal and the government shuts down at midnight tonight, everyone loses -- first and foremost, the American people and the hundreds of thousands of people who lose their paychecks. But here in Washington, the Democrats will lose, the Republicans will lose, the president will lose. Nobody wins from this.

So, how is that even possible that there could be a shutdown?

KING: Well, that's an excellent point on the last point. They are close enough that it seems absurd there would be a shutdown. However, our politics of late have been on a trajectory where the unexpected and the least expected have happened several times in recent history. So, you can't rule it out. Most people believe they will get there in the hours ahead.

But you also, Wolf, it's very dangerous to make a prediction about who benefits. Many Democrats look at the last time around and they think Bill Clinton got the upper hand. The Democratic president used the power of the bully pulpit, got the upper hand back in 1995.

But it also depends on your perspective. There are a lot of freshmen conservatives in the house Republican Congress. There are a lot of veteran conservatives in the House Republican conference who feel empowered now, they feel they got a mandate in the last election. Maybe the 2012 election won't go globally well for the Republicans. Those conservatives, they say that's not what they're worried about, that they came here to do a job.

So, people have different interests in this fight. And it's hard sometimes to -- when you're thinking about the big picture -- to realize some people come fresh out of the election with a very different perspective and they believe that's what they were sent here to do and they're willing to plant the flag. And so, you can say, long-term, will it hurt or help this person or that person -- in the short-term, you have to watch how this plays out in a very new and very volatile Washington political environment.

BLITZER: All right, John, stand by. We're going to get back to you. I know you're working with your sources all of the time. As soon as you get something, let us know.

Let's bring if a key player in all of this, Congressman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. She's a Republican. She's the chair of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives.

What are you hearing, Congresswoman? Deal or no deal? REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Hi, Wolf.

Well, we haven't heard yet. You all have, that we're having a meeting in 45 minutes. We haven't even gotten that message yet. So, you maybe know more than we do.

The one thing we do know is that we're given a mandate by the American people last November and it was this: spend less, not more. And at the beginning of the year, we had a deficit this year of $1.5 trillion. Within just a month or so, the debt for this year, the deficit, will be $1.65 trillion. We're going in the wrong direction.

Every week, we add about $30 billion more in deficit. And the American people are saying, fight, because we don't want you to keep spending money like this. We don't want these deficits and we certainly don't want Obamacare. So, people are saying to us, we're with you and fight.

BLITZER: Is the issue right now -- based on everything you know, Congresswoman -- the money, the amount of cuts that are proposed in this budget, or is it some of the social issues like funding for Planned Parenthood?

BACHMANN: Well, this isn't anything new, Wolf. From the very beginning, people said --

BLITZER: Well, what's the sticking point right now, based on what you know?

BACHMANN: Well, again, we don't know because the negotiations are only being handled by John Boehner, the vice president, the president and Harry Reid. That's it. Those are the only people who really know. So, it's unfair --

BLITZER: Are you telling me that the speaker isn't consulting with key members, like you, especially given your influence among those who support the Tea Party movement?

BACHMANN: The speaker needs to be able to do his negotiations. They have to be kept in confidence. And so, that kind of information is not out for everyone.

But what we do know again is what the American people have said. They have said we think out of a $3.7 trillion budget that certainly there's a minimum of $61 billion in waste, get rid of it. People just can't abide any more with this spending and they want us to fight and be tough.

BLITZER: Can we assume, Congresswoman, that whatever the speaker of the House, John Boehner, agrees to will be good enough for your vote?

BACHMANN: Well, what -- no, what I have said from the beginning is I can't vote for any deal that doesn't defund Obamacare. That was a signature issue and a mandate that people gave us out of the election. BLITZER: Then you're going to vote no -- that's not going to be included in this compromise, whatever emerges.

BACHMANN: If it isn't included, I can't give the vote because I've already made a statement --

BLITZER: So, you're -- are you speaking -- excuse me for interrupting -- but are you speaking, you think, for the vast majority of those Tea Party activists in the House of Representatives?

BACHMANN: Of course not. I can only speak for myself and my vote and what I've said, because, again, the people told us, they were tired of hyper-spending, they're tired of hyper-deficits, they didn't like the federal government taking over private industry. They didn't like the federal government taking over health care.

They want us out of that mess. They want job creation. We can't get job creation when the federal government is consuming and spending $1 out of every $4. We've got to get back to prosperity.

BLITZER: Do you agree with a lot of conservative Republicans, including Karl Rove, and Mike Huckabee, that there's got to be a deal that averts a government shutdown, otherwise this could be a political disaster for Republicans right now, just as the shutdown back in '95 turned out to be a political disaster for the Republicans then?

BACHMANN: I think people all over the country have been telling us fight, keep fighting. They want us to keep fighting so that we can actually get to what we had promised. We had talked originally about a $100 billion cut. Then, we went to a $61 billion cut.

People want us to fight so that we can cut the waste out of the federal government. Right now, Harry Reid and President Obama are fighting so they can spend more. We're fighting so that we can spend less. That's where this is at.

BLITZER: Michele Bachmann is a congresswoman from Minnesota. Quick question before I let you go, are you in the Republican presidential contest?

BACHMANN: Well, Wolf, we'll make a decision probably sometime early this summer. We're really excited. We raised the most money of any of the candidates in this first quarter. Ron Paul had raised more, but that was for a fund that can't be transferrable to a presidential account.

So, we're extremely excited that we were the number one fund- raiser. We've gotten a lot of excitement and interest. And so, we'll let you know come early summer.

BLITZER: You saw that poll the other day that had Donald Trump the favorite among Tea Party activists. How worried wore you about challenging Donald Trump for the party's nomination?

BACHMANN: Oh, I'm not worried at all, because, again, I think that the contest is only early on and starting. But I do believe that President Obama very likely will be a one-term president, and we'll have a great candidate to take him on in 2012.

BLITZER: How does this sound to you, Trump-Bachmann or Bachmann- Trump, how does that ticket sound to you?

BACHMANN: Well, we'll let you know in early June.

BLITZER: All right. We'll talk about it. Michele Bachmann, thanks very much for coming in.

BACHMANN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger right now.

She's obviously going to vote against this deal, if there is -- if, in fact, there is a deal, because no deal is going to defund the Obama health care law, the law of the land. Right now, the Democrats would never go along with that. So, she clearly is going to be in the nay column no matter what.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the sign, Wolf that she's obviously pondering very seriously a run for the presidency, because she's right. One of the key -- the most signature issue was, you know, repeal Obamacare. And if she's going to run as a purist in the Republican Party, she's going to vote against everything. And I would presume that would mean this, I would presume that would mean raising the debt ceiling.

So, you know, her vote is not going to be much of a surprise on this if she's running to the right in the Republican Party, because she needs the base if she's going to try and win that nomination.

BLITZER: She's emerging among that base pretty strongly right now -- just as Donald Trump is as well. But we'll talk about presidential politics down the road.

Gloria, you're really well-plugged in here in Washington, among Democrats and Republicans. What's the latest guidance you're getting about deal or no deal?

BORGER: Well, I'm getting that everybody understands -- at least the leaders understand that they need to get a deal, that the American public wants a deal. What's interesting, though, Wolf, is when you talk to people, the Republican base, we were just talking about is OK with no compromise. It's the Democrats who really want a compromise.

And what we're seeing are two parties who can't even agree about what they disagree on. And that's because the politics is kind of interesting. The Republicans are saying it's all about spending as we were just talking about. That's what it is all about in the Republican Party, cutting spending. The Democrats are saying, no, no, we're close on the spending, but it's about the social issues.

I was talking to a Democratic pollster who said to me, look, these social issues work for us. They were just out in the field with a poll, and he said to me, on the social issues about Planned Parenthood, for example, we win with young voters. We win with suburban women, and by a two-to-one margin, independent voters do not want to defund Planned Parenthood. That is why you're hearing the Democrats talk so much about the social issues, because that's their political sweet spot right now in this fight.

BLITZER: We're going to dig deeper on that in a moment. Gloria, thanks very much. We'll stay in close touch with you as well.

So, is this budget battle really all about Planned Parenthood? That's what some Democrats are charging right now. When we come back, I'll ask the president of Planned Parenthood.

Much more of the breaking news coverage coming up right here on PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get more on the breaking news out of Washington where the shutdown clock is ticking and ticking. Let's bring in the House assistant minority leader, James Clyburn of South Carolina.

Congressman, what's really going on right now? You're a straight shooter. Tell us the truth.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I think we're still in negotiations. I think we're very close to getting a deal. I've not been in any of those meetings. And I'm learning a lot from listening to you and through much of the other media sources.

But I've talked to enough people to make me believe that we will reach some kind of a deal before midnight and I don't think we'll be shutting down the government tonight.

BLITZER: And will it be a complete deal or will there have to be a temporary piece of legislation, what's called another little stopgap, continuing resolution, for three days or a week or ten days to finalize, to sort of bureaucratically put it all on paper and get ready for the final vote. What's your understanding?

CLYBURN: Well, I'm thinking it would be what I would be called a comprehensive deal that would come in more than one part. I think that we're close enough on the big stuff for us to feel comfortable voting for something, maybe another week, so that all the particulars can be worked out.

So, I expect for us to do something tonight that will be only for a week. But I think we'll come back the next week and do it for six months.

BLITZER: All right. I just want to be precise on one point that Congresswoman Michele Bachmann raised, she said she couldn't vote for anything that continues to fund when is now the law of the land, the health care reform law, which she calls Obamacare. I take it that that's a nonstarter from the Democrats' perspective. This continuing -- this resolution, this budget will continue to fund the health care law, is that right? CLYBURN: Oh, yes. No question about that. I think she knows full well that that's not on the table. I think --

BLITZER: What about funding for -- what about funding for Planned Parenthood?

CLYBURN: Well, remember, Planned Parenthood is a small part of what we call Title X funding. It's only about $75 million of $330 million.

Now, remember what this is about. We were talking about Washington, D.C., talking about health care centers. You're talking about Catholic clinics. What they're saying is not just Planned Parenthood, but they're talking about any women's health center that may provide abortions, even if the woman will pay for it with their own money. That is far beyond what anything we have ever done with the Hyde Amendment, which is to prevent federal funds from being used for abortion.

And we ought not to be talking about all that when we're trying to get people to work. We were trying to keep people on their jobs. We have been here for 14 weeks now, still, no jobs bill coming from the other side and won't even let us take up a job bill we want to present.

So, all of the stuff that we're talking about is of very little interest to the American people. It's all about jobs -- either staying on your jobs or creating new jobs.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman, we'll see if you're right -- if there is a deal by midnight tonight. That's what I'm hearing, that they're very, very close.

But, as you know, and as all of our viewers know, there is no deal until it's finalized until there's a deal and the Republicans are going to be meeting in about half an hour or so up on the Hill. Then, they're going to have to report back to the Senate majority leader, to the president. At some point, I guess will hear from the president, we'll hear from Harry Reid, we'll hear from John Boehner, all of that presumably before midnight tonight.

Thanks very much, James Clyburn, for joining us.

Let's dig deeper on the whole issue of Planned Parenthood.

Cecile Richards is president of Planned Parenthood. It's a $363 million it gets in federal funding every year for health care centers. And this has become a sensitive issue right now.

Has it always been a sensitive issue or is this an unusually -- an unusual moment for Planned Parenthood based on your history right now?

CECILE RICHARDS, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Well, Wolf, I've never seen anything like it. To think we're at this point and trying to pass a federal budget and it is being hung up over the issue of whether women can get birth control and cancer screenings is simply unfathomable. I've never seen anything this extreme. And, of course, I think it is a handful of Republicans in the Congress and the House of Representatives who are dead set -- committed to eliminating all family planning in America. And I hope it doesn't come down to that.

BLITZER: The federal government gives Planned Parenthood, in one form or another, $360 million a year, something like that. Is that right?

RICHARDS: Well, the way I would put it is we're actually the largest family planning provider in the country. We provide more family planning than any other organization. And we do a lot of that through federal programs because --

BLITZER: So, that's -- that's $363 million a year, based on all the information we have.

Now, none of that directly goes to pay for abortions, because that would be illegal.

RICHARDS: That's right.

BLITZER: The Hyde Amendment makes it illegal for federal money to pay for abortions. The argument that many of the anti-abortion elements in Congress are making is that by giving you this $363 million, it's fungible. In other words, it freezes up some of your own money to go ahead and pay for abortions, elective abortions for women.

Is that an argument that you -- I'm sure you heard it. Go ahead and give us your response.

RICHARDS: It is absolutely untrue. And everyone in Congress knows it.

The -- there is very strict accounting around federal funds. They go it pay for direct services. They pay for family planning, pap smears, birth control, they pay for breast exams. Those well women checkups. That's what federal funding pays for.

And Planned Parenthood, as well as hospitals, any other health care provider that provides services is audited by the federal government every year and it's very strict and it always has been.

What really is at issue here, Wolf, is the fact that what the House of Representatives did was pass a bill that eliminated family planning, not only through Planned Parenthood, but through any family planning center in America. It would affect more than 5 million women who currently get family planning and cancer screenings through Planned Parenthood and other health centers. That's why women are very, very concerned.

BLITZER: Is Planned Parenthood -- your critics make this point and they have advertisements that make this point -- the largest abortion provider in the United States?

RICHARDS: I -- here's what I do know: we're the largest family planning provider in the United States.

BLITZER: Is it the largest abortion provider, too?

RICHARDS: And I think one thing that is really, really -- I haven't counted, you know, what services every health care provider provides in this country. What I do know, Wolf, is that actually Planned Parenthood prevents more than 600,000 unintended pregnancies in America. Ninety-seven percent of our services are preventive care. We're the biggest family planning provider in the country.

And so -- I think this debate, you've obviously heard on the House floor, where you've had members of Congress who are not -- do not support abortion rights, but who support Planned Parenthood because they say what we need to do in this country is provide more family planning services so we can reduce the number of intended pregnancies in America, help them plan their families. That's actually the topic that is really in the middle of al this. It is whether or not we believe that women should have access to high quality, affordable health care, including family planning services and cancer screenings. And that's what -- that's what this budget debate is about.

BLITZER: Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood -- thanks so much for joining us.

RICHARDS: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Could America's troops be the innocent victims of the budget showdown? When we come back, I'll talk to a military wife who's worried --is deeply worried right now about her family.

Much more of the breaking news coverage coming up on PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Senior defense official tells CNN U.S. troops will not take a hit to their paychecks if Congress and the White House can make a budget deal over the next few hours.

Joining us now from Kabul, Afghanistan, is CNN's Nick Payton Walsh. Nick, I know a lot of troops. There are 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan right now, another 50,000 or so in Iraq, thousands of others in Germany and Korea, and many, many others serving in the United States.

They and their families are deeply worried about their paychecks if there is a government shutdown. What are you hearing over there?

NICK PAYTON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think first we should make clear that operations in Afghanistan aren't going to be affected, because they're funded by a part of the budget kind of immune to this shutdown. So troops here are going to get housed, clothed, fed, armed as normal. That will continue through the shutdown. Once defense official here saying basically it's business as usual. Where we could see a problem, though, are these paychecks. Now it's a little complicated because DOD rules say that troops get paid for work done up until a shutdown. They're required to work during a shutdown. But then they get paid for that work at the end of the shutdown retroactively.

The next pay day is in about a week. So this shutdown is going to have to last over seven days, really, for people to have to start worrying about paychecks not arriving in the mail, Wolf.

BLITZER: In terms of morale, in terms of fighting spirit, are you getting any indication at all that this debate that's under way in Washington is impacting the ability of the U.S. military to do their jobs on the battlefield?

WALSH: It's very early days. I mean, your average soldier out there in an outpost probably isn't going to be aware of this political fight happening in Washington. And frankly, people are just getting up here in Kabul. So we'll be hearing of this news now.

But I do know from being out there with troops before, these are soldiers often living paycheck to paycheck. You hear people on the roofs of bases in the middle of nowhere on cell phones talking to their wives or husbands about credit cards being maxed to the limit, balance of payments on everything.

So we're not talking about the richest part of society here. Already people are under great stress, maybe starting to think, is my next paycheck going to be coming for my family back home.

BLITZER: Yeah, they certainly don't want to put more stress on their families back home. Nick Payton Walsh on the scene for us in Kabul, Afghanistan, thank you.

For our men and women in uniform and their families, the uncertainty over the looming government shutdown is frightening. Let's bring in someone who knows this firsthand, a military wife, Kasey Long. She's joining us from Camp Lejeune.

Kasey, your husband is deployed in Japan. You have a 15-year-old son. The family is living of your husband's paycheck, of course. This is not a good situation, especially now if that paycheck were to dry up even temporarily. You don't have a whole lot of money in the bank, do you?

KASEY LONG, MILITARY WIFE: That's correct. Right now, we're pretty much maxed to the end.

BLITZER: So what happens if you miss a paycheck or two? How much money, if I may ask, do you have in the bank?

LONG: Right now, I just put my husband's truck up for sale. This was the truck I bought him when he returned from Afghanistan on his first deployment, as his surprise. And I've been kind of watching the news and waiting to see what happens. And this is a scary thing because these bills right here, they don't stop. If the paycheck stops, you know, we don't know what we're going to do.

BLITZER: So you haven't sold that truck yet.

LONG: I have not. I just put it on the market last night.

BLITZER: So you need the money for food, the gas for your family. You would be in deep trouble if that paycheck stopped even for a week?

LONG: Even for a week, yes, sir. Even for a week. We get by. We pay our bills. We don't live extravagant. I don't think any military family does. We live comfortably. We pay our bills. And, you know, maybe every once in a while, we might go out to dinner, but that's very few and far between.

But it is sad when you can't tell your son -- you know, you can't give him lunch money. Or you can't take him here or you can't buy him shoes. And one week of a missed paycheck would be detrimental, yes, it would.

BLITZER: So how scared are you right now?

LONG: I'm very frightened. I'm very frightened. My husband, I don't -- you know, I haven't talked with him. So, you know, I don't know if he knows anything about this.

These men and women are over here giving their lives for this country. And their families back here are -- you know, the military is the backbone of this country. And I've listened to this news for three or four days. And nobody has made any sense of what they're saying.

And you know -- and then they're going to cut the military. They're over there fighting for nothing. And it doesn't make any sense to me. It makes no sense to me at all.

There is a lot of egos going on. You know, there's a lot of inexperience that I see, and a lot of people that don't know what they're doing. And it makes me angry that we're -- we're proud Americans. And I'm sure everybody in the world is probably looking at us right now and laughing because it is an embarrassment.

BLITZER: Certainly is. So tell me, Kasey, what would you say -- if you could say -- they might be watching you right now. We don't know who is watching us right now. But let's say the president, the speaker of the House, the Senate Majority Leader, they're watching right now and in their hands is the ability to either make a deal and keep the check coming or let this collapse, have the government shut down, go into a political argument.

Talk to the leaders of Washington right now, Kasey.

LONG: I guess really what I would say is these little things that they're fighting over, that's something that should have been worked out in October. Taking away military pay and hurting military families, it is detrimental.

You've got men and women over there risking their lives -- risking their lives for this country. And for what? I would say keep the military going. That is the backbone of our nation.

We have got to eat. We have got to pay our bills. We have got children to support. We have got to be strong for our military men and women in the field. It makes me so angry.

BLITZER: Have you had a chance to talk at all about this with your son?

LONG: My son knows a little bit about what's going on. He knows it is really tight around the house. He's asking for shoes. And I have to tell him to wait. And he's been pretty understanding about it.

He's a typical 15-year-old. But, you know, there is other family members out there. You know, I was looking around my neighborhood today. You know, the neighborhood is -- we live off base. And I'm looking around and seeing my neighbors, everybody is just kind of sitting out in the driveways in their lawn chairs just kind of in disbelief.

Just -- I went around and talked to a couple of neighbors, and everybody is scared to death. Nobody knows what we're going to do.

BLITZER: Casey, you thank all those people at Camp Lejeune on behalf of all of us for the sacrifices for the public service. We really appreciate what we're doing -- you're doing. And we certainly hope that those paychecks keep on coming because, God knows, your husband, your family, all of the military personnel and their loved ones, they deserve these checks.

The politicians, they can argue on another occasion, not at the expense of the fighting men and women of the United States military and their families.

We appreciate it very much. Thanks, Kasey Long. Good luck.

LONG: Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity.

BLITZER: Veterans of both ends of the political spectrum are angry, very angry about this budget battle, how it is playing out. I'll speak with two of them. That's coming up next, This special breaking news edition of PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Critical moments right now. Just a little bit more than two hours until the deadline when the government would shut down, if, that's a huge if -- if there is no deal worked out by the president, the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader. Right now, within a matter of moments, the Speaker John Boehner has invited all the Republican members of the House to come in to a meeting. He's going review where the situation stands.

Then presumably he will go back to the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the president of the United States and they'll see if there is a deal or no deal. We assume at some point the president of the United States will be speaking to the American people.

You'll see it. You'll hear it live here on CNN. We also assume we'll be hearing from John Boehner and Harry Reid as well.

Lots at stake, especially for American troops. Are American troops being used as pawns in a political game? Who is to blame in all of this?

Joining us now is Ashwin Madia, an Iraq war veteran, interim co- chairman of VoteVets.org, and former Army staff sergeant David Bellavia. He's also an Iraq veteran.

Ashwin, your group has been very vocal about this potential shutdown. You blame Republican lawmakers. But I got to tell you, there is plenty of blame for everyone if, in fact, there is a government shutdown.

ASHWIN MADIA, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Well, you're right about that. It is both sides' responsibility to get this done. I think what we were pointing to was the fact that a noncontroversial issue, one which Republicans and Democrats both agree on, which is the funding of troops, was tied to pretty controversial issues such as abortion. And that's kind of holding things up.

It would seem to me that we ought to take care of the things that we all agree on first, which is funding the troops. And then later on, if people want to argue about abortion, they can have at it.

BLITZER: Which is a fair point. David, what do you think about that?

DAVID BELLAVIA, FMR. ARMY STAFF SERGEANT: Look, I'm disgusted with both sides. I can't stand when Marines, veterans and soldiers are used as poker chips. We didn't have anything to do with this shutdown.

And now all of a sudden -- you know, the political class in Washington looks at soldiers and Marines as break glass in case of war, stick them behind you when you want to look presidential. We heard from a mother living in Camp Lejeune, who is talking about living paycheck to paycheck.

This is real stuff. Harry Reid today had a bill in front of him that was voted on party lines that would have kept the DOD funded until the end of the fiscal year. September 30th of 2011, the DOD would have been taken care of.

The Senate punted on it. Republicans and Democrats, if they truly wanted to stop using us as checkers on this political board, they could do it right now. So let's stop the games with the Republican and Democrat nonsense, and let's let our troops focus on what they need to be focused on. And that's taking care of the enemy.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Ashwin, that from time to time, and probably right now, the fighting men and women of the United States, the U.S. military personnel are merely some sort of poker chips, if you will, being used by both political parties?

MADIA: Well, I hope that's not true. And I like to believe that it is not true. I think that probably, in their hearts, both Republicans and Democrats care deeply about this country. And they care deeply about the military.

That's why I think it is unfortunate that this is going on. But speaking to both sides coming together, I think in the Senate today, Kay Bailey Hutchison got 72 co-sponsors for a bill that would fund the military even in a case of a government shutdown and ensure all the servicemen and women got their paychecks.

Now that's not tied to any abortion bill or any of these other riders that I think have been holding this up. I think it is a good bill. And I think that many even Republicans in the Senate are calling on John Boehner and House Republicans to accept that and to pass a similar bill and then argue about the riders later on.

BLITZER: You know, David, a lot of people are furious that if, in fact -- if there is a shutdown -- and we all hope there won't be a shutdown. But if there is and the paychecks stop going out to the family members of the U.S. military personnel, a lot of people are outraged that members of Congress, the House and Senate -- they make about 175,000 dollars a year. They would continue to get their paychecks.

How do you feel about that?

BELLAVIA: I'm one of those people that are outraged by it. You got -- you got privates and E-4 below, some of these guys are making 851 dollars every two weeks. OK. The average member of Congress right now is worth what? Net worth of three million dollars a person? That's what the average is.

I don't think people care if Harry Reid has to transfer funds between money markets so he's not taking a paycheck. This is patronizing. A member of Congress can own and operate an arena football team right now. And these kids are not going to be able to feed their children, their wives.

How about this, Wolf? How about death gratuities? How about if you lost your husband or your son or your daughter? The death gratuity would stop. All of your security is gone. Your loved one is fallen. He's in Arlington Cemetery. And you can't get a gratuity for that from the government because of this nonsense that is going on right now in the Senate.

It is absolutely shameful. BLITZER: It is not only shameful, it is sick when you think about -- when you think about what is at stake now. I'm glad both of you joined us. Ashwin Madia, David Bellavia, guys, thanks very much for coming in. And good luck.

MADIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BELLAVIA: Thank you.

BLITZER: When we come back, a man who was at the center of the last government showdown. It was a shutdown at that point, 1995. Stand by. What happened then and what's happening right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much. We'll check in with you right at the top of the hour.

Let's check in with Dana Bash right now. Dana, the speaker of the House, John Boehner, he is meeting with his Republican colleagues right now. I take it he's presenting the deal to them, if in fact there is a deal. Is that what you're hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't know. We can ask him. Are you going to present the deal, sir? I'm live.

I tried, Wolf. I tried there. He's obviously not answering that question. But listen, the message that they're sending out to us is that there is no deal and that the speaker is going to simply talk to his rank and file about what's going on.

But we are getting just from body language and other indications that perhaps there's something shaping up that's more than that, that he needs to get an OK on from his rank and file. So that's what we're hearing now. That's what we're seeing now as people are walking in here.

But Democratic sources I'm talking to still insist they are close. They are very close. They don't have that deal sealed yet.

BLITZER: There's no deal until there is a deal, as we always say. Dana, we'll check back with you. Thanks very much.

My next guest was the House majority leader during the last shutdown back in 1995. Dick Armey is currently chairman of Freedom Works.

There's a growing divide apparently between some mainstream Republicans, some Tea Party activists, congressman. What are you hearing right now? Is this a significant split or is it overblown?

DICK ARMEY (R), FMR. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: No, I don't think there's a split. This situation is more difficult, in some respects, than what we saw in '95. You have to remember that what they're dealing with is the 13 separate appropriations bills in the discretionary part of the budget.

In '95, we didn't have this issue of military pay because our priority was defense spending, and we had actually passed that as a separate bill. The Democrats failed to pass any of the 13 bills by October 1st, or even in a lame duck session.

And therefore, they wrapped them all up together. As soon as they wrapped them up together in an omnibus bill, they broke down the barriers between social issues like funding for Planned Parenthood.

BLITZER: Congressman, let's cut to the chase right now. You believe, based on the experience that you as a Republican leader had in '95 during the last government shutdown -- you want a deal right now, under any circumstances, is that right?

ARMEY: No, that's not right at all.

BLITZER: What's a deal breaker for you?

ARMEY: Well, the fact of the matter is we have a Congress -- and today I work with grassroots activists known as the Tea Party movement. And we're not particularly impressed with either of the two political parties. But we have a crying need for this government to face up to the need to step up right now and cut unrealistic, unnecessary, excessive government spending before this nation faces a financial catastrophe.

And we think the Republican majority dealing with the leftover business of the past Democrat majority, in this circumstance, is making a very good effort to get rid of the unnecessary, even obnoxious and constitutionally questionable spending that will be able to reduce that budget and get this ball going.

So we're very impressed with the efforts the Republicans are making. We wish they would have been doing more of this the last several years. But at least they got the message out of the last election.

It doesn't appear that the Democrats got it at all. When Harry Reid says gee golly whiz, we won't be funding cowboy poetry if you make these vicious cuts, that doesn't impress us a lot.

BLITZER: Dick Armey, thanks very much. We'll continue this conversation.

Let's get a different perspective from a freshman congressman from Wisconsin right now, the former reality TV star, Republican Representative Sean Duffy.

Sean, you said you blame the Democrats for putting the government in this position to begin with. Give us your perspective.

REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCOINSIN: Absolutely, Wolf. Last year, the Democrats should have passed these bills, but they didn't even propose a budget. So they've kicked the can to this Congress. What we've done is we've passed HR-1. It funded the government through Fiscal Year 2011. In that HR-1 bill, we cut only 61 billion dollars of spending. And that's under the backdrop of a 1.6 trillion dollar deficit this year and a 14 trillion dollar debt.

We're at a point where we have to get serious about the fiscal problems that we face.

BLITZER: Are you going to vote for this deal tonight?

DUFFY: I don't know what the deal is, Wolf. And that's part of the problem. Republicans have put their plan out. We don't know what the Democrats' proposal is. You can't tell me what work has been done in the Senate. They haven't brought a bill to the floor that they passed.

When negotiations worked, one party makes a proposal; the other will make a counterproposal.

BLITZER: So if it's good enough for the Speaker John Boehner, that's not necessarily good enough for you? Is that what you're saying, congressman?

DUFFY: What I'm saying is I'll consider reasonable proposals. So I want to hear what the speaker says. The problem that we face right now is that the Senate Democrats haven't engaged in the conversation.

And to your prior guests, you had Kasey, a mother of a military man who is suffering right now. This is outrageous. Yesterday, we passed a bill to fund the government for the rest of the year, and fund the DOD for the rest of the year. Harry Reid won't take it up.

This -- their leadership skills don't exist. The only one who has led in this process have been the House Republicans.

BLITZER: Sean Duffy, thanks very much.

DUFFY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: You better hurry. The speaker is meeting with all your Republican colleagues. You better get over to that meeting and find out what's going on. And then you'll let us know when you know.

Appreciate it very much. The United States government could shut down in just a little over two hours from now. We're going back to Capitol Hill for a live report right after this.