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Budget Negotiations; Interview With Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor; Interview with Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho

Aired October 14, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So it's a three-day weekend for some people and an unwanted and, as of now, unpaid 14-day weekend for many furloughed federal workers. Happy Columbus Day?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. The White House meeting with top members of Congress has been postponed. Are they making progress in negotiations or are they stocking up on water and foodstuffs and heading to their bunkers?

The money lead. Just three days until Uncle Sam bangs his head on the debt ceiling, are leaders in Washington gambling with your life savings and retirement? President Obama's former economic boy wonder is here to weigh in.

And the buried lead, generals in charge of all Air Force nuclear missiles fired in scandals involving gambling and booze. Will they be the last, as the Pentagon tries to clean up its ranks?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin, of course, with this same national lead. Happy holiday. Here in Washington, it's not just Columbus Day. Apparently, it's also opposite day. After weeks of hoping and praying that members of Congress and the White House would sit down and actually talk to each other, the fact that they are not talking right now is somehow being perceived as a good sign.

The White House decided to postpone a critical meeting with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders that was supposed to start about an hour ago. That is to give the Senate more time to work out a deal that would hopefully reopen the government and save the country from possible default.

Under the deal, Senate Republicans would agree to fund the government through January. The debt ceiling would increase through February 15. The GOP also wants a system in place to verify who qualifies for Obamacare subsidies, and they also want a delay on at least one Obamacare-related tax.

Earlier today, Senator Harry Reid told reporters the Democrat and Republican leaders in the Senate were getting closer to seeing eye to eye. Check out this rare moment of sunshine and unicorns on the Senate floor. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm very optimistic we will reach an agreement that's reasonable in nature this week.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: We had an opportunity over the last couple of days to have some very constructive exchanges of views about how to move forward. Those discussions continue. And I share his optimism that we are going to get a result that will be acceptable to both sides.


TAPPER: Optimism? Constructive exchanges? Who are you and what have you done with my Congress?

At least one person still seems hesitant to sip the rose-colored Kool- Aid. Listen to what President Obama had to say while visiting a local food shelter in D.C. earlier today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not only is it untenable for us to continue the shutdown. This week, if we don't start making some real progress both in the House and the Senate, and if Republicans aren't willing to set aside some of their partisan concerns in order to do what's right for the country, we stand a good chance of defaulting.


TAPPER: Ouch. So let's go live now to CNN's chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who has been following all of today's developments.

Dana, can you tell us more about this deal that Senate leaders are working on? Why do they feel they're so close?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you said the dates, and these are important dates to look at and to talk about. First of all, we are told that reopening the government would happen immediately and this deal would fund the government until January 15.

Why is that a key date? It's because that is the date that after which the new round of forced spending cuts would kick in the Democrats absolutely do not want to happen. So that is a bit of a give on the part of Republicans who wanted this to go later so that those cuts would kick in.

However, as part of this agreement, we are told that budget negotiators who are going to sit down and work out a longer-term deal to actually fund the government through the fiscal year, as it's supposed to be done, their deadline would be December 13. So it does give Congress about a month wiggle room to bump up against that next deadline. So that's dealing with opening the government, then the whole question about default. The U.S. would not default if they passed this deal because they would extend and lift the debt ceiling until February 15.

That is another area where Democrats gave, gave in to Republicans. Democrats wanted to do it for at least a year. They wanted to do it through the next election, through January of 2015, or at least the end of 2014. They appear to be giving in to Republicans to do a shorter-term debt ceiling increase. The reason Republicans want that is because as we have seen through these past couple weeks, they believe that is their best leverage to force the government to deal with the big issues with spending cuts, with entitlement reforms, things like that.

Then the last thing that seems to be a little bit sort of unclear is anything to do with Obamacare. I am told actually by Democratic sources that the idea of making sure that there is verification for people's income who are getting subsidies, make sure they actually should get those subsidies for Obamacare, that that is on the table.

That would again be a give by Democrats and something that Republicans can go back and say aha, after all of this, we finally got some changes to Obamacare. It's not that big. It's maybe you could argue pretty minor and certainly the idea is bipartisan to make sure there's no fraud with people getting subsidies for Obamacare, but, still, when you're dealing with something that is so raw and saw high-stakes, this would allow maybe people to say, aha, I got it.

That again seems a little bit murky. Republicans, Jake, will go into a meeting of their own Senate Republican Caucus at about 5:45, so about an hour-and-a-half, little bit more from now. It seems as though that's where the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is going to present what we just told you to the caucus, make sure it will fly. John Boehner, we know, was in walking behind the offices in the Capitol trying to avoid us, but was back with Mitch McConnell getting a sense of what was going on here, so it seems to be jelling rather fast. We will see if that White House meeting ever even has to happen that was postponed at 3:00.

TAPPER: Dana, John Boehner, though, interests me more than Mitch McConnell even if Mitch McConnell is the one negotiating this deal with Harry Reid. Is there any indication that House Republicans are willing to go along with this deal that is being negotiated by the leader of the other body?

BASH: That is really such a key question and key point, because they have been driving, they, the House Republicans, have been driving this train for two weeks and we have ended up where we are, with the government shutdown and uncertainty just days away from the debt ceiling deadline.

The answer to that is we don't know for sure, but it certainly appears that John Boehner has said so many times he is not going to let this country default, and if he sees a very big bipartisan vote out of the Senate, which if this deal comes to fruition and both leaders are on board, it probably will happen, it will be very hard for the speaker, first of all, not to bring it up on the House floor. He almost certainly will do that, and hard for him to not at least say he tried. If this does end up passing with majority Democratic votes and maybe not the majority of his Republican Caucus, which, of course, was his goal all along, I think he still will get props from within the conservative movement for trying, against all odds, against basic math, some would argue, to get as much as they could from these deadlines that they thought they were going to use as leverage.

TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, thank you.

For the latest on the negotiations, let's bring in Democratic Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas. He has been working on bipartisan negotiations with some other senators, such as Joe Manchin and Susan Collins.

Senator, what's the latest? Where are we on a deal here?

SEN. MARK PRYOR (D), ARKANSAS: Well, you know, I think we have good news here.

It looks like the two leaders are talking and, basically, I think it's fair to say what happened is this bipartisan group of 12 or eventually 13 senators came together. We were working through a number of issues. At some point, we got very close to an agreement. We went and talked to our two leaders and said, look, here's where we are. This is what we think we can accomplish.

And basically they said, OK. And then my understanding is they more or less took our discussion and then they started discussing. I'm not saying that the agreement that they will reach will be identical to ours, but I think it will have a lot of common elements, which, again, I think is good. I think that's what we always want it to be. We always want to be problem-solvers. We wanted to do this in a bipartisan way and we kind of joked that we always thought that we were plan B.

We just thought nobody had a plan A. So we were glad to be plan B and we were glad to be there and glad to help this process.

TAPPER: All right. Well, with the understanding that what you and the 12 other senators were working on is not necessarily identical to what Reid and McConnell are working on, what did that deal, your deal, look like? What were we talking about in terms of how long the government would be funded or how long the debt ceiling would be raised?

PRYOR: Great questions.

We really never reached the agreement. We got right to the edge of reaching the agreement, and then we broke off and talked to the leadership. But I think it's probably better that we not go into all those details because, again, we don't know exactly what the leadership is going to do. But the important thing is, if you're going to get anything done in Washington, you need to do it in a bipartisan way.

Now, the talking heads don't tell you that, but that's really what you need to do. That's what we were doing. I appreciate Susan Collins for her leadership. But there are a lot of senators in that room that were showing leadership, and it just gives you comfort to know that at the end of the day, the Senate can come together and get things done. We don't have this done yet, but when you have a bipartisan group of senators working together, good things happen.

TAPPER: Well, as you know, Senator, the key in Washington is not just bipartisan, especially when it comes to Republicans in the House and Senate. It's bicameral, the fact that there are two houses. I'm sure that this crisis would have not reached this point if it was entirely left up to the Senate and Senate Republicans.

House Republicans are the real sticking point, at least when it comes to Harry Reid and Barack Obama. Do you have any sense that House Republicans might be supportive of whatever deal is coming down the line?

PRYOR: I don't have any sense of that yet, but I do think you're right. I think most people understand that this crisis was really manufactured by the House Republicans.

And I don't say that to cast blame, because people in my state of Arkansas, they don't want to hear blame. They want solutions. And that's one of the reasons why I'm working with my Democratic and Republican colleagues in the Senate to do this.

My sense is that what we're talking about here on the Senate side is very reasonable. I think the two leaders will come out with something that most Americans will understand and agree with and support. I certainly hope the House Republicans will do the same, but, you know, given their behavior over the last, you know, several months, last couple years, I can't predict what that's going to be.

But, hopefully, you know, you do not want to play games with the debt ceiling, with the nation's credit, with the nation's economy. You don't want to jeopardize all that. And I'm just hoping that, at the end of the day, cooler heads prevail and the House does concur with what the Senate is trying to do.

TAPPER: As you know, one of the big sticking points with Democrats has been about the level of funding for the government, whether or not the lower sequester restraints would be locked in or not.

I want to play some sound from Senator Rand Paul and what he told our Candy Crowley just yesterday.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think the one thing I cannot accept and the one thing that I think is really not even a compromise at all is the Democrats want to exceed the sequester caps.


TAPPER: So where are we on that issue, sequester caps? Harry Reid, as you know, when he and John Boehner entered into that agreement that Boehner wasn't able to hold up in September, had agreed to the lower level of funding. Now it sounds as though Democrats are pushing for the higher level. Where do you think we're going to land on this?

PRYOR: You know, I think it's hard to know exactly, but my guess is we stay with the Budget Control Act of 2011 and stay with those numbers. I think there's very strong feeling on the Republican side not to affect that.

Now, I would say the Budget Control Act of 2011 was a compromise. You know, people say we're not compromising. Hey, that was a big compromise back in 2011. Neither side was overly happy with that, but that's what we got and that's how we got sequester. But the truth is, if you look at it, it's been effective. It's already -- you can measure the change on the annual deficit, and it's painful, people don't like it, but it's forcing us to make hard decisions.

So my guess is, we probably stay with those numbers that are in the Budget Control Act of 2011. I know there are people that would like to raise those and people that would like to lower those, but my guess is we end up staying with those numbers.

TAPPER: Lastly, Senator, I do want to touch on a cultural issue that maybe you can some shed light on for our viewers. There was a big rally in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, a lot of veterans objecting to memorials being closed. But it didn't escape the notice of some photographers that there was a gentleman with a Confederate Flag outside the White House, a lot of liberal commentators saying that they found that offensive, others saying that it's not necessarily offensive.

You are from a part of the country where Confederate Flags are not as rare as they are here in Washington, D.C. What's your take on that?

PRYOR: Well, you know, of course, first, let me say he has the right to do that. This is America. He has the right of free speech.

I did not like to see the memorials closed. I didn't like to see the government closed. And so, you know, I didn't like the way this whole thing went down, and I understand why people are angry, because, really, this was completely avoidable. There's no reason why we should have been here.

I think had reasonable minds been able to come together earlier, we would have completely avoided this. I think, unfortunately, the Congress caused some hardship with people and this is never something I wanted, but that's just the way it ended up.

But back to the gentleman, hey, he has the First Amendment. He has the right to free speech. I may not agree with what he says or what he does, but he has that right to do that.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Mark Pryor, thank you so much for your time.

PRYOR: Thank you. TAPPER: When we come back, the last time this happened, just flirting with the debt ceiling, that wiped out hundreds of millions in savings. Will Congress risk it again this time? Will the president? I will ask one conservative Republican congressman if he's on the same page as the speaker of the House.

And the money lead. What's the worst-case scenario if America defaults on its financial obligations? Should you go out and Redbox "Mad Max" to prepare? Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

It's crunch time. The country is just three days away from coming dangerously close to not being able to borrow any more money. And while the clock on the right side of your screen continues to count down to a possible default, we're still waiting for the president and leaders from both sides of the aisle to huddle at the White House to hash out a deal. But even if these power brokers do find a compromise in time, one of the big questions is will it fly in the House of Representatives?

Republican Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho joins me now.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

Does Speaker Boehner speak for you in these negotiations?

REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO: You know, Speaker Boehner speaks for the whole conference. I don't know that I'm going to be able to agree with the final deal, but not everybody agrees with me in the conference. We have a pretty broad section of America in the conference, and I think Speaker Boehner has actually done a very good job in the last two or three weeks to represent the conference as a whole. I'm not sure what he's doing right now and we're going to see what that final deal is.

TAPPER: Let's bring our viewers back for a second. As you know, Speaker Boehner originally did not favor this strategy, arguing that tying defunding Obamacare to the government's spending bill, he said that would lead to a shutdown and Republicans would be blamed for it, but he changed his mind with people close to him saying that conservatives such as yourself pushed him to adopt this strategy.

Now, you were one, in fact, in January, you were one of about 12 members of congress who was trying to organize something of a rebellion against Boehner becoming speaker, and in fact, you didn't vote for him to become speaker.

So my question is, what exactly did you and your fellow conservatives tell Boehner to change his mind to go along with this strategy that you support?

LABRADOR: Well, we as conservatives wanted to separate the debt ceiling from the continuing resolution, from the funding bill of the United States. We actually thought and we agree with a lot of people who have talked in the media that tying the fight on Obamacare to the debt ceiling was actually dangerous. We were concerned about having a fight that may seem like more of a political fight, dealing with the debt ceiling. We thought it would be a better fight when we did it with the funding bill, because Obamacare's going to add $2 trillion to spending over the next 10 years, and we thought if we wanted to have a fight about Obama care, we should have had it when we were talking about spending bills in Congress, not about debt bills in Congress.

And we were able to successfully separate the two fights. I never thought it was a good idea to tie the Obamacare fight to the debt ceiling, because I think many conservatives in the House believe that when we deal with the debt ceiling, we should be talking about debt, entitlement programs -- the things that are leading to having a $17 trillion debt in the United States. And I hope that we continue to fight on those two fronts.

TAPPER: But do you -- did you and your fellow conservatives convince him that if he did not go your way, that he might not be speaker for much longer?

LABRADOR: I don't think there were any threats ever against the speaker. What we told him is that the majority of the conference, and if you have seen over the last three weeks, the votes that we have had in the House of Representatives have been the most united that we have been in years. So, we believe strongly that the House of Representatives needed to fight on Obama care and the majority of the conference, more than half of the conference, stood with us, and that's why we went in this direction.

TAPPER: As you know, there are a lot of Republicans who believe that the fight against Obamacare which they support would have been better waged in a different way, and they wonder if Republicans would be in a stronger position on the issue of Obama care if Republicans had done a short-term government spending bill and moved the Obamacare fight just a little bit --


TAPPER: -- because then the biggest story in the country would be the failures of That's the argument.

LABRADOR: You know, my question to these Republicans, when do we have this fight. The problem with Republicans in Congress, especially in the Senate, is that they always want to fight the fight the next time, and they keep punting on all the fights that we need to do.

We have a $17 trillion debt. We have been able in the last three years as Republicans, we have been able to take a $1.3 trillion deficit and cut it almost in half. It's been because we have had these fights.

The president takes credit for that. Senate Republicans take credit for that. But the reality is if House Republicans had not fought for cutting spending and cutting the deficits, we wouldn't have the cuts that we have had over the last three years. And the problem with Senate Republicans is that they always want to have a fight the next time. They always want to wait until the next time. If they continue to pussyfoot around like they do in these battles, they're never going to be able to take back the Senate and never be able to actually engage in the fights the American people elected them to do.

TAPPER: Now, last time we came this close to not raising the debt ceiling, the stock market went down 17 percent, retirement assets fell by $800 billion. Are you willing to pledge right now that you will support raising the debt ceiling because we don't want that to happen again?

LABRADOR: I will only pledge to raise the debt ceiling if we have real reforms like we had the last time. If you remember, you guys in the media continue to talk about what happened right after -- during the fight, but you forget to tell the American people what happened after the fight.

The stock market is at the highest levels that it has been in a long time, and the main reason is because we as house Republicans actually fought for less spending. We actually cut the deficit in half. If we hadn't done that, the markets would have gone south. But because of the fights, in the middle of the fight it never looks pretty but the reality is that when you get out of the fight, you realize that you have actually made a difference for America.

TAPPER: The top House Republican, sir, reportedly exploring their own options if the senate doesn't get moving with their own plan soon. Any idea what that plan would look like?

LABRADOR: You know, I don't, but what we have encouraged the speaker and the top House Republicans is continue to separate the two issues, to continue to have the fight on the C.R. What I would suggest to the president, I'd like to do something that he gets something, I get something. I would give him a one-year C.R. so he doesn't have to worry about the spending bills for the next year, in exchange for a one-year delay of Obamacare.

It's something that would be a win-win for both sides. He doesn't have to worry about the budget fights for a year and we can actually delay Obamacare which has been unfair to the American people.

Right now, you're telling the American people that they're going to be taxed if they don't purchase a product that they cannot even go online and purchase. These health exchanges are not working. The people are finding out that their health care is actually increasing in cost. They are losing the doctors, they are losing the coverage that they needed, they are losing all the things that they were promised by this president that they were going to have.

And I think it's time that we were able to continue to separate these two, that we actually allow the American people to receive the same benefit that businesses received when the president gave them an exemption. TAPPER: Last question, sir. I want to make sure I understand your position clearly. If it were let's say up to your vote, and I have been here for 20 years, I have seen things come down to one person's vote, would you vote no on raising the debt ceiling if there was not some major concession that you got, even if it risked the economy and obviously, the Dow Jones going down?

LABRADOR: Again, repeating what I said, it has nothing to do with Obamacare. If there are no systemic changes to our debt, to our entitlement programs, then I would vote no on raising the debt ceiling.

TAPPER: Congressman Raul Labrador, Republican of Idaho, thanks so much for your time.

LABRADOR: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: Let's check in our political panel in the green room. Folks, Ross Douthat of "The New York Times" is now comparing the debt fight in Washington to the movie "Apocalypse Now."

Now, CNN political commentator Kevin Madden, we learned you're a huge film buff. What other classics of the silver screen come to mind as we watch this lovely drama unfold?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think if you look at voters, they would pick a comedy like "Dumb and Dumber" but a lot of journalists would say a movie like "The Never-Ending Story" is very much framing this debate.

TAPPER: Very nice. I like that, because you're with the same age, so I love going old school, '80s style.

Stick around. We'll be right back.