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Interview With Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp; Budget Deal

Aired October 16, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now a SITUATION ROOM special report. Government shutdown day 16. Breaking news, we're awaiting dramatic 11th hour votes in Congress that are expected to end the fiscal crisis gripping Washington for now. Just hours ahead of a possible debt default.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: We fought the good fight. We just didn't win.


BLITZER: Harsh criticism of Republicans by Republicans. Some of them blasting the party shutdown strategy.

And feeling the fallout. One state is cutting off welfare -- payments to thousands of low-income families because of the shutdown.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

We're following the breaking news on Capitol Hill, where the Senate is expected to vote soon on a bipartisan plan to avert what many see as a fiscal catastrophe, a U.S. debt default.

The bill would lift the Treasury's borrowing limit and reopen the federal government, which has now been shut for 16 days, already costing the U.S. economy $24 billion, that according to a report just released by Standard & Poor's.

House Speaker John Boehner has conceded defeat. He's encouraging fellow Republicans support the Senate measures when the House votes on it later tonight.

We're covering all angles of this fast-moving story with CNN's Brian Todd, Rene Marsh, our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, our chief congressional, Dana Bash.

She will being our coverage up on Capitol Hill.

When can we expect the Senate vote, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We just finally got something that is necessary to have a vote, which is legislation. This just was posted on the Senate Web site. It's 35 pages. This is the actual bill. Like I said, we just got it, we haven't had a chance to go through it to make sure there is nothing in here that was unexpected, nothing that is omitted that we expected to be in here.

But assuming everything goes as planned, the Senate is expected to vote, maybe within the hour, by 7:00 p.m.. That's what the latest word we're getting from Harry Reid is. This could happen very shortly. Then it is expected to go over to the House, which is expected to vote to approve this. This whole deal, reopening the government, making sure the debt ceiling is raised, could go and really is expected to go to the president's desk tonight.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a lot of legislation, a to of language in this, what, let me see here, 35 pages. I haven't you go through it myself yet either. I just a copy, but a lot of stuff in there.


BLITZER: House Republicans, they have to pass it as well. We assume the Senate will pass it.

Are there any roadblocks ahead that could derail this deal before it gets to the president's desk for his signature?

BASH: This has been such a whirlwind. I am not going to say definitively no, but it certainly doesn't look that way at this time.

What's been most fascinating to watch is the way even those who have opposed John Boehner from the beginning within his own caucus are rallying around him, at least in his leadership.

I want you to listen to what Republican Congressman Mick Mulvaney said to our own Jake Tapper earlier today about -- he was asked whether or not the speaker is in trouble politically.



REP. MICK MULVANEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: A hundred percent stronger. No one blames him for this. We didn't have the votes. We didn't have the votes yesterday. I supported the compromise that the speaker offered yesterday, and so did really good conservatives, myself Jim Jordan, Raul Labrador, Justin Amash. We supported that compromise. We could not get him the votes. That was our failure. We did not deliver the votes in the House. It wasn't the speaker's fault.


BASH: Pretty remarkable, basically saying that he and his fellow conservatives who pushed this so-called Ted Cruz strategy on the speaker, a speaker who didn't want this, let him down because they couldn't deliver. That is sort of the state of play right there. The question -- I think maybe the last bit of political drama we will be watching for is what happens in the House, whether or not a majority of the Republicans do in fact vote for this. The House speaker behind closed doors today really urged his rank-and-file to vote yes. Even though he said we lost, we will fight another day, it's better -- I'm told that he said to his rank-and-file, it's better if we are united.

BLITZER: We will see if all 200 House Democrats vote for it at the same time. All right, Dana, thank you.

The breakthrough comes with just a few hours to spare. At midnight, the U.S. hits the debt ceiling, producing shockwaves that would rock world financial markets. But the bill the House and Senate are about to vote on doesn't solve the crisis. It only kicks it down the road. Funding to keep the government open runs through January 15. The debt ceiling is lifted only through February 7.

Let's go to White House. Our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is standing by.

What's the mood over there as they're getting ready for these votes in the Senate and the House?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think the mood in general, Wolf, is they're glad it's over.

We're really waiting to see if President Obama might come out and speak. It appears unlikely that that will open before the Senate vote. But there's always that possibility, of course.

White House officials are hopeful this whole process, while certainly bruising, may have deterred House Republicans from sort of following their Tea Party contingent. Of course, we're really not going to know until mid-January if that is the case, because this really is a short- term funding measure, but you also get the sense of not only is the White House glad this over, but also that there's been a lot of frustration.

An aide close to President Obama said he's really been frustrated through this whole process, it's really eaten up a lot of time. This certainly isn't how he wanted to be spending his time. He would have rather been pressing some of his domestic agenda items, like immigration reform.

BLITZER: What has the president been doing, Brianna, while he's waiting for the Senate and the House to do their business?

KEILAR: He -- according to officials and according to the public schedule for President Obama, he had lunch with the vice president, he met with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, as well as Secretary of State John Kerry, and also, Wolf, something that he did that I wonder if he would have done if things hadn't been looking so good coming off Capitol Hill, he actually welcomed Miss America, Nina Davuluri, to the Oval Office. She was here for an event honoring a fund-raising group for children's hospitals, and so he had a little moment with her that she tweeted about.

BLITZER: So the president's got stuff to do while he's waiting. Let's see if he shows up in the Briefing Room, the Oval Office, the East Room, some other place, some foyer over at the White House to make a statement. None of us should be surprised if he does that, but no word yet.

BLITZER: We're also standing by for the Senate to vote on the bill funding the government and lifting the debt ceiling, just hours before a potential government default.

Up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM, some of the sharpest criticism aimed at Republicans is coming from some fellow Republican. We're taking a closer look at some of the bitter fallout inside the GOP.


BLITZER: As we're standing by for the Senate to vote on this spending and debt compromise deal, it's clear that many well-known Republicans are not happy with their own's party strategy during this government shutdown, now in day 16.

And they're not afraid to say so publicly.

CNN's Brian Todd has been working this part of the story for us.

Tell our viewers what you're finding out, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Finding a lot of hand-wringing, Wolf, a lot of finger-pointing within the GOP as their ranks as we emerge from this mess. Some of the party's real heavyweights are its toughest critics.


TODD (voice-over): On the Senate floor, John McCain slammed the partisanship on both sides during this shutdown.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's one of the most shameful chapters that I have seen.

TODD: But in print, he was much tougher on his own caucus, telling "The New York Times": "Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win."

McCain's Republican ally Lindsey Graham says the GOP "really did go too far. We screwed up."

Former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards says while he believes that President Obama was too inflexible in this standoff, it's the Republicans who overreached by hammering on Obamacare. MICKEY EDWARDS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: The public is not going to believe that the president is responsible, especially when they're trying to undo a law that's already been enacted. So, and when then you tie it in with also the threats about the debt ceiling and possible reneging on the money the American people have already spent and owe, I don't think it's a message Republicans can win.

TODD: Senator Ted Cruz has been skewered from within the party and by his own hometown newspaper, which had endorsed him. Comparing him to his predecessor, Kay Bailey Hutchison, "The Houston Chronicle"'s editorial page says: "Cruz has been part of the problem in specific situations, where Hutchison would have been part of the solution."

(on camera): Another conservative group whose tactics are now under fire, Heritage Action for America. It pressured wavering Republicans to keep fighting against Obamacare, keeping tabs on those who didn't by blasting out scorecards.

(voice-over): Their leader dismissed McCain's criticism that this was a losing battle.

MICHAEL NEEDHAM, HERITAGE ACTION FOR AMERICA: I think That the Senate Republicans should spend their energy focusing on Obamacare and the way it's ruining millions of American people's lives and not trying to settle scores about policy tactical differences that they disagree with.

TODD: But analysts say the party will still question the tactics of its own hard-liners.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Has that line of argument, that political strategy been discredited by this defeat? There's no other word for it. And does that then allow other voices in the caucus to argue for a different direction?


TODD: Another big question coming out of this, does John Boehner keep his speakership? GOP strategists we spoke to say he likely will, that he's got the votes to stay in right now, and who would want the job anyway, especially after all this, Wolf?

BLITZER: How do you Republicans turn this around politically?

TODD: This is a big self-inflected wound politically for them, make no mistake. But the party insiders we talked to say a couple of basic things.

First, they have to show unity and they have to show they can lead, they can govern and not just push for an ideological agenda. Can they do all that in the year's time for midterms? Maybe not. Maybe for 2016, it's a possibility. They have a long way to do.

BLITZER: We will see what they do in January and February, when we might going through this ordeal again.


BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much, Brian Todd reporting for us.

So, while the political fallout from the government shutdown may not be felt until the next election, serious economic impact already being felt right now.

CNN's Rene Marsh is here. She's talking a closer look at some families potentially suffering severely as a result of what is going on.


Wolf, a deal may be in the works, but for thousands of people who live in North Carolina, this has been a very tense, nail-biting wait. North Carolina, it turns out, is the only state in the nation that is cutting some welfare benefits because of the shutdown.


MARSH (voice-over): In North Carolina, more than 20,000 needy families received their last welfare check this month. Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican, temporarily halted the state's Work First program, which provides short-term assistance to low-income families, concern from people who call the program a lifeline, like James Murphy's sister.

JAMES MURPHY, RESIDENT OF NORTH CAROLINA: She don't know how she is going to be able to take care of her baby, the third one.

MARSH: The checks are about $215 each month for each family. Other states are using their own money to plug the gap after the Obama administration sent this letter saying states could qualify for federal reimbursement post-shutdown.

But North Carolina doesn't trust that the government will repay them.

REP. DAVID PRICE (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Why is North Carolina the only one of all these states that is victimizing its most vulnerable citizens in this way? It is not acceptable.

MARSH: North Carolina's Democratic Congressman David Price says it could be politics.

PRICE: The state has found $75,000, $80,000 to keep the Blue Ridge Parkway open. That's a good thing, but it does raise the question, why would we be the only state out of 50 that can't find the money for these families with these acute needs?

MARSH: The North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, an advocacy group for low-income families, agrees.

ALEXANDRA SIROTA, NORTH CAROLINA BUDGET AND TAX CENTER: We have a rainy-day fund that has more than $600 million in it. This is certainly a rainy day for families in North Carolina. There's no reason that state policy-makers can't tap into those dollars to provide stopgap support to families today.


MARSH: We reached out to the governor of North Carolina to explain why he deemed it necessary to suspend processing new applications for some people who say they need welfare assistance. We haven't heard back yet.

So the question is what happens when the government reopens. The state's Department of Health and Human Services says that they should resume processing new applications. However, emphasis on the should, because they're not quite sure when that federal money will be freed up once again for them to use.

BLITZER: It's a tough, tough situation.

Rene, thanks for the report, Rene Marsh reporting.

We're standing by for that Senate vote on the bill that would reopen the federal government, raise the nation's debt ceiling. Stand by. I will also speak with one lawmaker who says he's not all that worried about a U.S. default. What is going on? My interview with Congressman Tim Huelskamp is coming up next.



SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: This is Washington at its worst. It's exactly the kind of thing the American people are fed up with.


BLITZER: Senator Mike Lee of Utah, he is a bitter opponent of this deal that Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate, have worked out.

We're awaiting the vote, by the way, on the floor of the Senate, should be coming up pretty soon, this hour, we're told. They're getting ready for that vote. Once it passes in the Senate, and it will pass by an overwhelming margin, we're told, it will go to the House, where we will see what happens in the House of Representatives.

Let's talk about that with Republican Congressman Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. He's a Tea Party favorite. He also says this debt ceiling is not necessarily the crisis it's made out to be.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. TIM HUELSKAMP (R), KANSAS: You bet, Wolf. My pleasure.

BLITZER: So, well, assuming it gets a bipartisan, lopsided majority in the Senate -- which we anticipate it will get now that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, is on board and so many other Republicans in the Senate are on board -- once it comes to the House, the speaker, John Boehner, says it will come up for a vote, a yea or nay vote, as passed by the Senate, he hopes as many Republicans as possible vote for it.

How will you vote?

HUELSKAMP: I will be voting against the deal.

Washington, D.C., didn't listen to the American people, and we didn't do a single thing about Obamacare, and it is continuing to hurt Kansans in particular.

BLITZER: But don't you think that folks in Kansas and indeed all over the country would be much more severely hurt if the U.S. were to default on its obligations, whether overseas financial obligations, or unable to make payments to veterans, Social Security recipients, and others?

HUELSKAMP: Well, fear-mongering coming out of the White House doesn't make it true.

At the end of close of business yesterday, there were significant, tens of billions of dollars of cash on hand at the Treasury. That's from Lew himself. The White House today said, oh, by the way, we really didn't mean the 17th. We meant the 18th.

Joe Biden in 2011, August 21, says, there's not going to be a default. The reality is, though, we are ignoring the basic problem, is, people don't like Obamacare and they don't like massive deficits. And this agreement locks that in for another three months.

BLITZER: I don't if you saw this latest report that just was released by Standard & Poor's, the rating service.

They say this 16-day government shutdown already has cost the U.S. economy, in their estimate, $24 billion, $24 billion. That's a lot of money.


HUELSKAMP: They have no idea, Wolf. Those are made-up numbers.


BLITZER: Why are they made up? This is a respected economic forecasting firm.

HUELSKAMP: Department of Labor hasn't put out any figures for two- and-a-half weeks now. The Treasury isn't even full strength to put out those numbers. It's not good to have a shutdown.

BLITZER: They can't put out those numbers because those parts of the Department of Treasury has been shut down.

HUELSKAMP: Yes, exactly, because Harry Reid and the president of the United States said they were going to shut the government down.


BLITZER: But you don't believe economists on the outside, what they're saying, respected economists?

HUELSKAMP: No, what I disagree with is the idea that Washington can exempt themselves from Obamacare.

And that's the issue here. And the rest of America has to get stuck with it. I just had an e-mail from a constituent named Nicole. Her premiums for her family are going up $446 a month. Washington couldn't care less about Nicole. That's who I'm fighting for. I'm not worried about S&P. I'm not worried about this default threat from the White House.

I'm worried about average Americans who are not being listened to by the Washington, D.C., establishment.

BLITZER: But if you don't have the votes -- and you clearly didn't have the votes in the Senate -- and, even if you did, the president would veto it, you would need a two-third override.

So many themselves Republicans say, why drag this into a non-win situation? Let me read to you what Grover Norquist said today. He's a conservative. You probably know him, president of the Americans for Tax Reform.

He said this. He said: "I think if you make a mistake as big as what they did," referring to House Republicans, you owe your fellow senators and congressmen a big apology and your constituents as well, because nothing they did advanced the cause of repealing or dismantling Obamacare."

So, what do you say to Grover Norquist?

HUELSKAMP: Well, I haven't read his statement. I appreciate hearing that.

But Grover's inside the Beltway. He needs to go out, as with all these U.S. senators, particularly folks like John McCain that spend more time beating up conservative senators than they do taking on Obamacare. At the end of the day, Obamacare is bad for America. Washington, D.C., exempted themselves. U.S. senators still do not have to be on Obamacare.

Neither do members of the House, Kathleen Sebelius said. That's a real issue here. I wouldn't want to be Mark Pryor and go home and say, I want to let you know I still get to keep my gold-plated congressional health care plan to his voters, and that is going to be a real issue this spring and fall, in my opinion.

BLITZER: Do you still have confidence in the speaker of the House?

HUELSKAMP: Well, I think he actually did a pretty darn good job.

But the problem was, there's 20 or 30 or 40 moderates who didn't want to fight on anything. They're just like every other Republican. They went home and said they're going to fight Obamacare. Then they go into the conference every day and whine about the debate and the battle. And you know what? Washington is a big town. People can disagree, but don't tell the constituents you're opposed to Obamacare and then be like John McCain and attack those who actually are working against it.

We have differences of opinions, but there's a battle on. And whether Washington, D.C., is going to listen, I was disappointed. The Washington, D.C., establishment won this round, but at the end of the day, I really believe conservatives are going to win this war.

BLITZER: Well, the war could go on for years, as far as Obamacare is concerned. And the only way you will get it repealed or rejected is if you have decisive majorities in the House and Senate, and you win the White House in 2016.

You're not going to get the president to go along with any major changes while he's in office.

HUELSKAMP: The president has already agreed to major changes. He's exempted big businesses.


BLITZER: But he made those changes on his own. He didn't make those as a result of what you asked for.

HUELSKAMP: Exactly, which means he didn't like Obamacare as it passed.

I think there's a possibility that, when this thing clears, the president of the United States is going to delay the individual mandate. He's delayed it for big businesses, labor unions. Take your pick. If you're a special interest, you get a delay. The rest of the Americans, they say, hey, how about us? Washington, D.C., doesn't get that yet.

That's why I think, at end of the day, we're going to win this war. And that doesn't mean it's going to happen necessarily through legislation. But through public pressure, people like Nicole, who says, you know what, I can't afford another $446 a month for this reckless plan that was put together by liberal Democrats.

BLITZER: Congressman Huelskamp, thanks for coming in.

HUELSKAMP: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see what time this vote happens on the House floor following the Senate vote.

Remember, you can always following what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer.

That's all time I have right now.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.