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Jay Carney Gives Briefing on Senate Debt Deal; Chris Van Hollen Talks Democrat Take on Senate Debt Deal; Gregg Harper, Robert Pittenger Give Republican Take on Debt Deal, Re-opening Government

Aired October 16, 2013 - 13:34   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So there you have Jay Carney. We get the gist of what he's been saying now for about 40 minutes or so. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, welcoming this deal that the Republican and Democratic leaders in the United States Senate announced a little while ago, a deal that would end the government shutdown and extend, raise the nation's debt ceiling. Only end the government shutdown at least till January 15th, raise the nation's debt ceiling till February 7th.

So there's no long-term commitment to continue this process but, in the meantime, the process will allow House and Senate representatives to begin some serious budget negotiations presumably might be able to get some long-term agreements on that front. Whatever is passed in the Senate still has to be passed in the House of Representatives. Carney expressing hope that the Senate and House would pass this legislation quickly, get it to the president. The president would then sign it into law. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be able to go back to work right away and start getting paid, and critically important functions of the U.S. government would resume.

We're going to continue our special coverage right after this.


BLITZER: All right, where do we go from here now that the Senate is poised to pass legislation opening the government shutdown, raising the nation's debt ceiling?

Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland. He's the ranking minority member of the House Budget Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D), MARYLAND: Wolf, great to be with you.

BLITZER: All right. So I'm sure you're very happy with what the Senate is about to do. Just walk us through the process a little bit because that process is important to hundreds of thousands of workers. Will they get reinstated today on the job or tomorrow or a day after that? What's your understanding? Does the Senate vote first on the legislation, then the House votes, or does the House vote first and then the Senate? VAN HOLLEN: Yes, Wolf, you're right. This is important to hundreds of thousands of workers and, of course, it's important to the whole country. Things have been changing minute to minute around here. My best understanding is the current plan is for the Senate to go first. The Senate would actually have to take up a House bill that's in the Senate, put the agreement into the House bill, and then it would be subject to some potential procedural hurdles.

Now I understand that Senator Cruz has said that he's not going to delay that. We'll have to see. And then of course, when that bill comes over to the House -- probably later this evening, the Speaker Boehner would have to bring it up on the floor of the House. Hopefully, that will all happen before midnight tonight and we can put an end to this very sad and unnecessary chapter in congressional history.

BLITZER: I know the Speaker John Boehner is meeting with his Republican colleagues in the House at 3:00 p.m. eastern. What do you anticipate? Is he going to allow whatever passes the Senate to come up for a vote, a yea or nay vote, on the floor of the House of Representatives without any further amendments, changes, other alterations?

VAN HOLLEN: Wolf, I certainly hope so because the alternative is not only a continued government shutdown, but defaulting on our debt, because as we all know, as we head tomorrow, we're really already running on empty in terms of the monies in the treasury to keep up with our debt obligations. So that's the fundamental choice that we've been facing in this Congress all along -- is the speaker going to stand up to the really reckless faction within his party in order to do the right thing for the country. I certainly believe so. I hope so. I believe he's made that decision. But, again, around here, we find out that thing have changed minute to minute. This morning, we thought this process might actually begin in the House. Now it seems that it's going to begin in the Senate.

BLITZER: It probably will begin in the Senate, especially now that Senator Cruz and colleagues say they're going to let it go forward without any procedural roadblocks.

Talk to me about one aspect of the deal. The House and Senate budget conferees would begin negotiations, would begin discussions to come up with some sort of agreement by mid-December long-term on the budget. I assume as the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, you'll be one of those conferees. Explain what all of this means, in layman's terms to our viewers out there, is there any penalty if you don't come up with a deal by December 13th?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Wolf, I certainly hope we can come up with an agreement. But the answer is there's no specific penalty if you don't. What happened is, back in March, March of this year, the House passed a budget, the Republican budget, and the Senate passed a budget. And since March, we've been trying to go to a budget negotiation with our Republican colleagues. Three times here in the House, Speaker Boehner blocked the appointment of negotiators and 20 times Senator Cruz and others blocked the appointment in the Senate. It is progress that now we're actually finally going to the budget table because it is obviously very hard to get an agreement if people refuse to talk. So we're glad we're now going to open this dialogue. The discussion will be between the two budgets. You've got a comprehensive House Republican budget. You've got a comprehensive Senate budget. There are deep differences between those budgets in terms of priorities. We've been trying to get together so we can compromise on those budgets, as I said, since March. I hope our colleagues are now ready to do that.

BLITZER: Senator Patty Murray, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee; Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, they will lead these is negotiations. You'll be involved. Other Senators, representatives will be involved, as well.

But here's my fear. As much as there's good intentions, good will right now, if you guys don't come up with a budget agreement acceptable to the House and the Senate, are we going to have to go through this same crisis in January and February once again?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, two things, Wolf. First of all, one of the important I think lessons that came out of what we've seen just now is that nobody should try to exact their demands on budget issues by threatening to shutdown the government or threatening to stop the U.S. from paying its bills. We hope in the future people have learned this terrible lesson from what we're seeing right now. Nobody should be threatening government shutdown or default on our debt if they can't get their way in a negotiation. That's number one.

Number two, I very much hope that we can have a negotiation. There are lots of bipartisan groups that have provided a model for the way forward when it comes both to job acceleration and also long-term deficit reduction. Simpson-Bowles, all those groups said, if you want to tackle your long-term deficit challenge, you've got to look at cutting and closing tax loopholes, getting rid of tax breaks, and through that balanced combination, you can achieve that long-term deficit reduction, which is good for the economy in the long run.

I should emphasize we also think it's important to do what we can to accelerate job growth now. And that means replacing the sequester and investing more in our national infrastructure and those areas that are important to maintain our competitive edge.

BLITZER: Those are going to be tough challenges, given a lot of your political opponents where they stand on those issues, as well.

Good luck and --


VAN HOLLEN: And, Wolf, we will be -- we will be naming budget negotiators later today as part of this agreement. So you will see that announcement in the House and Senate later today.

BLITZER: I assume you'll be one of them, right?

VAN HOLLEN: I will be one of the House budget negotiators, yes. BLITZER: Well, good luck.

VAN HOLLEN: Again, I very much hope that we can bridge some of these differences and get something done.

BLITZER: We're counting on you and your Democratic and Republican colleagues to get this done. It's a tough challenge. But you've got till December 13th to do it.


BLITZER: So let's see if that deadline forces you guys to come up with an agreement. That would be nice.

Thanks very much.

VAN HOLLEN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Van Hollen is the Democrat from Maryland.

So how do House Republicans feel about the Senate's deal to raise the debt ceiling and the partial government shutdown? We'll hear from not one but two Republican congressmen who are standing by live.


BLITZER: The big news from capitol hill here in Washington, Senate leaders from both parties have reached an agreement to end the government shutdown and raise the nation's debt ceiling only hours before this deadline hits.

Joining us now, North Carolina Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger and Mississippi Republican Congressman Gregg Harper.

To both of you, thanks very much for coming in.

Congressman Harper, first to you.

Assuming the Senate passes this and, by all accounts they will, now that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, Harry Reid, the Democrat leader, are aboard. If it comes to the House floor as is, you know the general parameters, how will you vote, Congressman?

REP. GREGG HARPER, (R), MISSISSIPPI: Thanks, Wolf. Look, I don't think we can flirt around with disaster on the debt ceiling. And while this doesn't have anywhere near what I would like to have in it, I will be voting yes because we have a lot of seniors, people that are dependent upon their pensions, other issues that are there. And we are pleased that we're going to have the income verification and the fact that this will go to the budget conferees to hopefully address some of the real problems of the out-of-control spending we have seen out of this administration.

BLITZER: It does continue, the spending, at least until January at the reduced level, the so-called sequestration level that other Republicans wanted, and some Democrats. A lot of Democrats not happy, they wanted greater spending.

I'll ask you the same question, Congressman Pittenger. How will you vote when this comes before you on the House floor?

REP. ROBERT PITTENGER, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Wolf, I haven't seen the legislation yet, but I will say this is a two or three-month temporary fix. The issue right now on the floor is, what do we do about long- term spending, the debt, $17 trillion, $60 trillion in unfunded mandates. These issues have been out there. It's really been disingenuous to me that the president, while he gave a speech in 2006, which I gave on the House floor last week, his speech lambasting President Bush for having a $5 trillion debt, and he didn't want to raise the debt ceil ceiling. We have to address this, whether you talk to Paul Ryan or to Peter Orszag, who is a budget writer for Mr. Obama, or Mr. Bowles, who I have know for 20 years, who was a budget writer for Mr. Clinton. They're all going to tell you, unless we address the spending trajectory of the country, we're going to fiscally collapse --


BLITZER: Let me follow up on that point. Do you have confidence that Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, will be able to -- he's going to be the House leader on this negotiation that's supposed to continue through December 13th -- House Senate budget conferees will deal with some of the issues you're talking about. Patty Murphy, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, will lead the Senate Democrats in this conference committee negotiation. Are you confident -- do you think they'll be able to make progress between now and that target date of December 17th?

PITTENGER: Paul is a very competent and very capable person, one of the brightest people on Capitol Hill. I think he has put forth a very thoughtful, prudent plan to balance our budget in 10 years. That's what we need to be about. That needs to be the focus. We have to build an economy that grows and creates jobs. Right now, we're not doing that. We have very anemic job growth. We have still large unemployment. We have the ability to move this economy along, but it takes a growing economy, it takes one where you have real spending that's in line with what your revenue is. You know, if you take in about $2.5 trillion of revenue and spend about $3.5 trillion, you have a problem.

BLITZER: Those are all important issues.

Congressman Harper, let me bring you back into this conversation. You're going to vote in favor of it. And I'm still unclear if Congressman Harper -- Pittenger is going to vote in favor. We'll come back to him in a moment.

But you're at least pleased the U.S. is going to pay all its financial obligations between now and February, and that people are not going to have to worry about getting their Social Security benefits, veterans are not going to have to worry about getting their checks in the mail, and all the other expenditures that are so critically important to your constituents out there, Congressman Harper, you're not worried about at least between now and January or February, those folks having problems?

HARPER: Well, Wolf, I'm not at all happy about the overall deal, but you're right, we can't really run the risk of having the nation go into default, having interest rates go up, other issues. So this gives us a temporary window for everybody to kind of calm down, quit trying to score political points, and let's go and discuss what are the real issues, which is the mandatory spending.

And you mentioned on the sequester issue, remember, that was the president's idea. However, both the House and the Senate Republicans and Democrats signed onto that, hoping it would never happen, but we have had, for the first time since the Korean War, two consecutive years of a decrease in overall federal spending. And we can't keep spending at this level or going into debt the way we have done under this administration.

So I look forward to seeing what the budget conferees can do. I know Paul Ryan has been certainly an adult in the room, and I believe he'll try to move us in the right direction.

BLITZER: So you'll vote in favor.

All right, Congressman Pittenger, are you going to vote in favor or against it once it passes the Senate, the Senate language to avoid government default and get the government working once again 100 percent?

PITTENGER: Well, Wolf, unlike Speaker Pelosi (sic), I want to read the bill before I vote for it. And I'm going to read it and then I'll let you know.

We do need to put together a plan, and that will give us two or three months to hopefully bring common sense into the room where we can address the long-term critical issues of this country.

Now, Mr. Obama, in his inauguration, he never brought up the debt. In his State of the Union, he never brought up the debt. When he came to meet with House Republicans, he never brought up the debt. In fact, he said the deficits weren't that big of a concern to him. But where do you start? We have to start with a clear understanding that we have to get our fiscal house in order.

BLITZER: Same question to both of you. I'll start with Pittenger.

Congressman Pittenger, do you have confidence in the speaker, John Boehner?

PITTENGER: Absolutely. He's a man of great integrity. I appreciate his honesty, his demeanor. He's been called all kinds of names in the process by the other side, and he was a gentleman. He kept his cool and he did the right thing.

BLITZER: Congressman Harper?

HARPER: Wolf, I don't think we could have a better speaker under more difficult circumstances than we have here. He's not in an enviable position, but he's -- certainly believes in regular order. He stood strong and so I'm honored that he would be our speaker.

BLITZER: All right, guys. I appreciate both of you joining us.

I assume -- do you have any idea when you're going to have that vote, either one of you?

HARPER: Wolf, we would expect now that it would happen after the Senate votes, so I would think some time this evening.

BLITZER: Then you guys get out of town, is that right?

HARPER: We haven't been told that yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll wait for that.

PITTINGER: It's not a bad idea.

BLITZER: We'll be staying in close touch with both of you.

Thanks very much.

HARPER: Thank you.

PITTINGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. More news right after this.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back, 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM continues, a special edition, right now with Brooke Baldwin and Jake Tapper.