Return to Transcripts main page


Shutdown Showdown: Day Nine; Interview with Sen. Ron Johnson

Aired October 8, 2013 - 23:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Guess not. Both emerged ready to spit more sound bites about how stubborn the other guy is.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't afford these manufactured crises every few months.

BOEHNER: This isn't about me. And frankly it's not about Republicans.

TAPPER: Don't work up a sweat, guys. Save that for the exclusive congressional gyms that are still open while hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without a paycheck.



TAPPER: Welcome to this special half hour of CNN's SHUTDOWN SHOWDOWN." I'm Jake Tapper.

Your government still exists but it's running on a hand-cranked generator. This is now night eight of the partial government shutdown. And a little more than a week from now the U.S. will hit its debt ceiling after which it will run out of money to pay all its bills.

In the distance tonight, if you squint hard enough in the dark you might be able to see a hint of light at the end of the tunnel. Either that or it's a train.

In a lengthy news conference today the president opened a door to a short-term deal to temporarily fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, maybe just for a few weeks.

And breaking this evening, a senior House Republican now tells our Dana Bash that his party might -- might go along with that as long as the president uses that time period to negotiate.

Breakthrough? Not so fast.

A White House official tells CNN, quote, "Don't overinterpret the president's offer." He will not offer concessions. This official says. But he is willing to sign something that says both sides have to talk after the government reopens and the debt limit is raised. The president and the speaker did actually talk today on the phone. You might think that would be about as warm and fuzzy as divorcing parents making visitation arrangements for their kids. But Speaker Boehner said it was a pleasant conversation, though both men tore into the other's position at their news conferences later.

So let's start with the president's remarks. Did he say enough to move the meter at all with Republicans? I'm joined tonight by a Tea Party supported Republican senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Thanks for being here, Senator.

Of course my CNN colleagues are here as well, chief political analyst Gloria Borger and chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Senator Johnson, I know that President Obama is urging business leaders -- not just President Obama but the White House in general is urging business leaders to call Republicans on the Hill such as yourself and say, we can't have this debt ceiling thing happen. We have to pass a raising of the debt ceiling.

Have you gotten calls like that and what's your response?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I have. And I hope those same business leaders call President Obama and say what we really need to do is address our long-term debt and deficit issue, which is really what this is about. It's certainly why I ran. You know, this -- the path this country is on is utterly unsustainable.

And, Jake, if you really want to understand, I'm a manufacturer. I'm always looking at the root cause of a problem. The reason we're in the stalemate really dates back to the passage of Obamacare and the fact that it was done on a totally partisan basis, it created this divide that hasn't been healed.

And you ladle on top of that the fact that Harry Reid's Senate hasn't passed any appropriation bills in the last two years. It's really kind of primary function of Congress is to first, you know, authorize the activity of the federal government then provide the funding for it. We haven't passed an appropriation bill in two years.

TAPPER: They did pass a budget in March.

JOHNSON: Finally a budget. But a budget is only supposed to direct the appropriation process --

TAPPER: Right.

JOHNSON: -- where you actually go through that difficult work of prioritizing spending. So we haven't done that in two years which is why we're now at this moment, you know, past the deadline of September 30th when the fiscal year runs out, trying to fund the government again in an incredibly inefficient way utilizing these continuing resolutions.

It's just a terrible way of doing business. So I'm hoping those business leaders talk to President Obama and he exerts some leadership on trying to get this process working a lot better in the future.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But, Senator, let's stipulate that you're right, that it shouldn't have passed.

JOHNSON: I am right.

BORGER: OK. Well, there you go.


OK. You're right.

TAPPER: For the sake of argument.


BORGER: You're right about everything. OK.

TAPPER: For the sake of argument.

BORGER: So let's say --

JOHNSON: Keep that up. You're doing --

BORGER: I'm in the right direction here. OK.

JOHNSON: You're doing good.

BORGER: So -- now I forgot what I was going to say. OK. You're -- you know, you're 100 percent right. Let's say that the president shouldn't have passed this along party lines and all the rest.


BORGER: Should the Republicans have decided to make this argument over Obamacare? Should they have promised the country something they actually couldn't deliver, which is defunding Obamacare?

JOHNSON: Well, I've done a lot of strategic planning as a business person. The first step in that is always trying to ascertain reality. And then try and set achievable goals. So from my standpoint, I didn't think defunding Obamacare was achievable. I mean, the reality of the situation is Harry Reid controls the Senate. In order to defund Obamacare you need five Democratic senators to switch their position.

BORGER: And you told them that.

JOHNSON: They haven't done that. Yes, I mean -- so, but again, I appreciate any effort that really highlights how harmful Obamacare is going to be. So no, I mean --


BORGER: But straight. You're saying --

JOHNSON: Let me stipulate --

BORGER: Right. Right.

JOHNSON: It probably wasn't the best strategy to employ. But now we're here. Now what the House is doing is I think doing what Congress should do, is they're starting to pass small appropriation bills. They're starting to prioritize spending. The fact that Harry Reid isn't even willing to bring those up for a vote kind of shows you who's really playing politics with the situation.


BORGER: But you're saying you got them here. You know, this is --

JOHNSON: It took two to tango to get us here. But now I think it makes an awful lot of sense to start passing the prioritized spending bills. I mean, let's face it. The government -- I mean, this is the most shameless action so far is they actually had to spend money to erect barricades around the open park World War II Memorial basically blocking out 80- and 90-year-old World War II vets.

Now that is just shameless. You know, so -- but that is what this administration is doing to inflict pain and play politics with the shutdown.

TAPPER: Pain is what you get with the government shutdown.


JOHNSON: I understand.


JOHNSON: But it didn't have to be so painful if we start passing some of these appropriation bills the way Congress should be working.

BASH: Let's just go back to the people who realize who you are and where you came from. You are -- you were elected in 2010 on the Tea Party wave.


BASH: You came from the Tea Party movement. But you're a businessman.


BASH: What you're telling us right now is the guy who was sort of the -- now the icon or poster child for that movement, Ted Cruz, he led you down the wrong path. I mean it was a mistake. That's effectively what you've just said. I'm trying to summarize it.

JOHNSON: What I said was I appreciate any effort that highlights the harm of Obamacare.


BORGER: You're politician.

BASH: You haven't been in Washington long enough to talk like a politician. Come on.


TAPPER: But you're a practical guy. You're a businessman.

JOHNSON: Yes. I'm a business guy. Yes.

TAPPER: So how do we get out of this mess? How do we get out of this mess? President Obama says it's the responsibility of Congress to pass spending bills. It's the responsibility of Congress to pay the debt for what Congress already spent.

JOHNSON: Well, you -- you do what I always did as a business person. When you sit down to the negotiation, you first figure out what you agree on. Don't worry about the disagreements right away. Let's figure out what you agree on. But you also have to start working with a common set of numbers.

I mean, Jake, If I'm going to buy a business and you've got the owner on one -- with one set of books and I'm the buyer with another set of books, if they're wildly different you'll never come to a negotiation. That's part of the problem is we're not even defining the problem properly.

One of the things I brought to the table during those White House discussions was a definition of the problem. And here's the fact, is we don't have a 10-year budget window problem here. We've got a 30- year baby boom generation demographic problem. And so the first decade you have deficit about $7 trillion. But we did a projection over 30 years, $107 trillion, because of the -- because of the unsustainable nature of Medicare.

TAPPER: Because of Medicare and Social Security.

BORGER: Right.

JOHNSON: And this administration refuses to deal with those things. They demagogued those issues. President Obama says Medicare just needs modest reforms. Yet behind closed doors President Obama admits to the Republican senators that the problem in reforming Medicare for every dollar that gets paid into the system Americans get $3 out in benefits. But he also says, and Americans don't understand that.

BORGER: But how do you get --

JOHNSON: Because we're not talking about it.

BORGER: How do you get from here to there, though? Because Obamacare has been attached to the funding of the government.

JOHNSON: Right. BORGER: The president says he won't negotiate on his signature piece of domestic legislation which you probably understand because you were against this strategy in the first place.

JOHNSON: Right. Well -- yes.

BORGER: So how do you get from here to there?

JOHNSON: You start -- you start --

BORGER: I mean, how do you negotiate without --

JOHNSON: You start being honest with the American public. You level with them. You describe to them in the first act of bipartisanship ought to be go to them and say, American public, this is the problem.

BORGER: So we can't fund Obamacare.

JOHNSON: We've been -- both sides, both parties have been papering it over for decades. They've realized that Social Security is unsustainable, that Medicare unsustainable. But yet when somebody like Paul Ryan proposes a solution to Medicare it gets demagogued. The left runs ads of a Paul Ryan look alike pushing granny off the cliff.

BASH: But --

BASH: That's not the way you --

BASH: But you know that both sides demagogue.

BASH: Sure. Absolutely. So let's get the politics out of it.

BORGER: How do you do that, now, though? It's so poisoned.

BASH: Let's -- facts and figures. I mean, that's what I'm trying to do. I -- I realize people don't like dealing with numbers. But the fact of the matter is, it's a financial problem. You have to start talking with numbers so you simplify it. And that's what I tried to do with the White House.

Let's look at 30 years, decade one, decade two, decade three. Thirty- year total. And then let's start developing a solution menu. Let's start putting up the options so policymakers actually have real information, not demagoguery to solve these problems.

TAPPER: Let's take -- let's take a very, very quick break. Senator Johnson, Dana, Gloria, stay with us.

Coming up, take it to the floor. The president demanding that Speaker Boehner call a vote to end the shutdown. So what's stopping the speaker? Stay with us.


TAPPER: After eight days, what's the latest political tactic during a shutdown? Calling the speaker of the House names like spineless and chicken. Just what the founding fathers intended. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to our CNN special SHUTDOWN SHOWDOWN. Eight days without compromise or a viable political solution from Washington, D.C. But one thing the parties have produced is plenty of mean-spirited rhetoric.

Check out the latest ad from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who slapped together this personal dig against the House speaker.


GRAPHICS: What is John Boehner scared off?

BOEHNER: There are not the votes in the House to pass a clean CR.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you chicken?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've always been gutless.

OBAMA: If Republicans and Speaker Boehner are saying there are not enough votes then they should prove it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the matter, Colonel Sanders? Chicken?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Damn right you're scared.


TAPPER: Hard to watch the great Rick Moranis be used as a political pawn like that.

But, Senator Ron Johnson, I want to turn back to you --

JOHNSON: Those Democrats are so mean.

TAPPER: They're so mean.

JOHNSON: I mean, they're so partisan.

TAPPER: You're talking about -- so cool.

JOHNSON: I'm Mr. Bipartisan.

TAPPER: I've never seen any Republican ads that mean.



We're just a lot nicer people.

TAPPER: So here is how President Obama might put it to you, if I can play devil's advocate for a second. You own a company.


TAPPER: Packer. You make plastics. What if the head -- let's say the CFO of the company said, this is what I demand. And if you don't do this thing that you normally would have to do, anyway, let's say it's make payroll, nobody's going to come to work tomorrow, and it would be a shame if something happened to your plant.

You would say, this is not a negotiation. Now that's the president's point of view. He has made -- he's used worse metaphors than that actually. But the idea is, this is something Congress needs to do anyway, pass a spending bill, raise the debt ceiling. These are not crazy things for the Congress to be asked to do.

JOHNSON: But then he's also saying do all those things then I'll sit down and I'll negotiate seriously with you, which he's never done.

TAPPER: He's tried, right?

JOHNSON: I mean, he --

TAPPER: You don't think he's tried?

JOHNSON: You know --

BORGER: In 2010 and 2011?

JOHNSON: Yes, I was part of the dinner group there. And I appreciate that outreach.

BASH: The dinner group meaning you and several Republican senators met --

JOHNSON: About 24 senators, there are two different dinners. And then there was a smaller group that continued to meet with the White House and with Denis McDonough and Sylvia Burwell and Rob Neighbors. And that was a helpful process.

TAPPER: What did you think of them? What did you think of those White House staffers?

JOHNSON: I liked them. You know, I actually --

TAPPER: Do you think they're (INAUDIBLE)?

JOHNSON: I actually like people here in Washington. They're nice people.

TAPPER: Do you think they're --


JOHNSON: A lot of their ideology is destroying this country.

BASH: That's going to get you in trouble back home. JOHNSON: Well, their ideology is destroying --

BASH: Coming to a TV ad near you.

JOHNSON: Listen, their ideology is destroying this country, but other than that they're great folks. OK? But --


BORGER: We'll tell them you said that.

TAPPER: But do you think that they want to deal with you? Do you think that they want to solve the fiscal crisis?

JOHNSON: Only if they get a tax increase. I mean, that's really what end up being the impasse. I mean, don't talk to us about any kind of spending restraint, trying to save Social Security or Medicare for future generations unless you're willing to increase taxes on the American taxpayer, which from my standpoint is counterproductive.

TAPPER: But they can't get Democrats to vote for it without that.

JOHNSON: I understand. And they can't get Republicans to vote for tax increases. So -- so again, going back to the reality of the situation, I get this.

BASH: Your own reality --


JOHNSON: So we get back to what I was talking about. Let's figure out what we agree on. In the president's budget there was about $1.2 trillion of different types of, you know, mandatory spending cuts and some other spending reductions. Let's take a look at those. Because we actually would agree on some spending reduction -- when I'm talking about reduction, we're talking about restraint. We're trying to reduce the rate of growth in spending.

TAPPER: Slow the rate of growth.

BASH: Let's just drill down --

JOHNSON: So let's start talking about that first.

BASH: OK, let's drill down on that. You've had these conversations.


BASH: We're not talking about, you know, fantasy land. You've actually been in the White House having conversations.


BASH: Two questions. One is, do you think that a six-week kind of stopgap to raise the debt ceiling and continue those conversations is the way to go? JOHNSON: You know, I wouldn't be opposed to that. We've done that in the past and in some of these past showdowns where we go, OK, let's do a two-week CR.


BORGER: So we go through it all over again?

JOHNSON: Let's do a two-week -- people weren't serious prior to September 30th. Maybe with this initial shutdown people will start focusing their minds and get serious. So --

BASH: And that's the next question. Do you -- do you think that obviously the talks broke down?


BASH: You've had an impasse over tax increases, you say.


BASH: But --



JOHNSON: This White House, if there's a $5 deal they would need 2 or 3 bucks in tax increases.

BASH: OK. But --

JOHNSON: I mean, that was the problem.

BASH: But, having said that, were there seeds of something that you could actually work out in five weeks?


BORGER: OK. So what?

JOHNSON: I think so --

BASH: Six weeks. Yes. Exactly.

JOHNSON: I think so, as long as they don't demand a tax increase. You know, that is a real stumbling block. The president got 600 some billion dollars of tax increase with no spending reductions at all with the fiscal cliff deal.

BORGER: But they don't want more Medicare cutbacks. And, you know, they've got their --

JOHNSON: There are --

BORGER: OK. You take taxes off the table. They take Medicare off the table. Can you still do something?

JOHNSON: Well, the long-term driver of the debt and deficit is health care spending. President Obama admitted that in our -- in our dinners. And particularly Medicare, in my 30-year projection we showed a $36 trillion deficit in Medicare over the next 30 years. That -- it's simply not sustainable, Gloria.

So that's what I'm talking about is, you have to first start off with the facts, the figures. Figure out what you agree on and that's the first thing you have to agree on, is the extent of the problem. And then we need to actually describe it to the American public so they are prepared for the solution.

Step one, what's the first step in any problem-solving process? Admit you got a problem, right?


BASH: Everybody admits that.

JOHNSON: No, no, they do not.


JOHNSON: They do not.

TAPPER: But, Senator, that's one of the reasons they did Obamacare because of the driving health care costs.

BORGER: Heath care cost. Right.

JOHNSON: And didn't we just have a report that the Medicare Actuaries came out today and said because of the passing of Obamacare, we didn't bend the cost curve down, it's going to cost $620 billion more over the next 10 years than had we not done Obamacare. So --

BORGER: Can I --

JOHNSON: You know we did not solve the problem.

BORGER: Can I just steer us back to the problem we're facing like immediately?


TAPPER: Today, right.

BORGER: Today. Next week?

JOHNSON: Well, they are all part and parcel of the same thing.

BORGER: OK. So the debt ceiling.

TAPPER: We got 40 seconds so.


JOHNSON: Talk fast.

BORGER: So the president came out today and said it would be catastrophic, insane and chaos if you did not raise the debt ceiling. What's your response to that?

JOHNSON: The president should be trying to calm the markets, not -- not rile them up. So from my standpoint we have plenty of tax revenue coming in if we are responsible, if we prioritize spending. There's no reason for any kind of catastrophe --

TAPPER: But you're not opposed to a short-term deal six weeks maybe even? You know --

JOHNSON: Something short-term yes. I'd certainly like to get something like no special treatment for Congress and members of their staff.

TAPPER: We'll have to talk about that another time.

JOHNSON: OK. I kind of like that as well.

BORGER: I love that. I love that short-term. I love that short-term yes.

TAPPER: Thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Dana and Gloria, stick around.

Coming up, they can't work out their differences on Capitol Hill. But don't worry, they can still work out because they have congressional gyms.

So what are Congress' private gym doing open in the middle of the government shutdown? Stay with us.


TAPPER: Sure, 800,000 government employees are out of work in the shutdown, but hey, Congress is making sacrifices, too. We hear they might even be giving up towel service at the private congressional gyms.

Stay with us.



While the federal government has shuttered war memorials, museums and national parks across the country, the House and Senate's private gyms remain very much open. Congressman Hans (ph) and Senator Fran (ph) were unavailable for comment.

Gloria and Dana, how can this be -- Gloria?

BORGER: I don't know. Look, I'm just concerned that the water is still running that they can all take a shower before they get back on the floor and that the -- we heard, didn't we, Dana, that the towels were --


No fresh towels. Right?

BASH: Yes. Apparently -- yes.

BORGER: Bring your own.

BASH: Our intrepid congressional producer Deidre Walsh reported that yes, members of Congress can work out but towel service is no longer available.

TAPPER: So that's a real thing.

BORGER: It appears to be.

BASH: It's a problem.

BORGER: It appears to be. I'm the towel service at my house. OK. Just saying.

TAPPER: Essential employees. Essential --

BASH: No, I mean, look, the -- the doors are open in the capitol, the doors are open in the gym. They're going in there. I saw that the senator was joking, although it's not so funny in the hallway, that you know that the shutdown is going to end when it just gets too stinky in there.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks to Dana and Gloria. And thank you for watching. I'm Jake Tapper.

You can catch me on "THE LEAD" weekdays at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be right back here tomorrow night at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and 8:00 p.m. Pacific. Have a good night.

"CROSSFIRE" begins right now.