Debt Reduction Committee's Deadline Is 1 Week Away

Nov 16, 2011
Originally published on November 16, 2011 7:02 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning.

Let's remember a bit of very recent history. Back in August, Congress came close to defaulting on U.S. government debts. Republicans wanted big cuts in spending. They finally got some, but a deal with President Obama pushed more deficit reductions off to the future, to a bipartisan committee which has been meeting this fall, and now has one week left until its deadline to reach a deal.

We're going to talk about this with NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook, who's on the line. Andrea, good morning.

ANDREA SEABROOK, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So, are they making any progress?

SEABROOK: Well, it sure looks that way. There's been a lot of talk on Capitol Hill, a lot of shuttle diplomacy between the leadership and the Super Committee, and the leadership and the other leadership on the other side. And that's a good sign. I mean there are murmurings that Republicans would accept, perhaps, revenue raisers - in other words, some kind of increases in tax income to the federal government. They're tying it, right now, to extending the Bush tax cuts.

But just even breaking that logjam of whether or not Republicans will agree to some form of revenue raisers, and Democrats have been insisting on that since the beginning, is kind of a big deal. Then again, the Republicans are also saying that they are going to vote en-bloc, as the six members of the committee. And that's kind of not such a good sign for compromise.

INSKEEP: Meaning that you're not likely to have one lawmaker go over to the other side and produce a majority, that some of their members of their party would not accept.

SEABROOK: Exactly.

INSKEEP: That's the situation you're in. So the discussions are continuing now. What happens if they do not reach agreement by this deadline next week?

SEABROOK: Well, automatic sequestration for 2013 is supposed to come on. And what that means, is that Congress has kind of swung a Sword of Damocles over their own heads, one that isn't the default of the federal government. They've replaced that with a whole bunch of serious budget cuts - to military, to entitlement programs. And the question is whether they allow those huge budget cuts to happen.

If they don't agree - the supercommittee doesn't reach a deal - or whether they just find a way to sort of reach up and snip that Sword of Damocles off from over their heads. In other words, get rid of the budget cuts altogether. And there's some sense that there are those that are planning for an end run around those budgets cuts. And there are some who are planning for the budget cuts themselves.

So there's not a whole lot of appetite up there on Capitol Hill for big defense and entitlement cuts, right now.

INSKEEP: Are Democrats showing any sign of being willing to compromise here?

SEABROOK: There are - you know, Democrats have been saying, from the beginning, that they will accept some big cuts in spending. Now, they have agreed, at several occasions, to deep entitlement cuts in programs like Social Security and Medicaid. And the question right now is whether or not the Republicans will get on board with that and say, OK, we're willing to do that with some amount of revenue increases.

The question has always been that demand the Democrats are making, that there be some tax revenues involved and the Republicans' demand that there be big spending reductions.

INSKEEP: So we've been talking, here, about budget numbers. But, of course, we're heading into an election year when politicians will look even more closely then they normally do at poll numbers. And may I mention a couple? There were...

SEABROOK: Please.

INSKEEP: ...some polls over the summer asking people what's your approval of Congress; do you approve of the job Congress is doing. And their approval rating in one survey got down to nine - nine percent.

SEABROOK: Well, in a recent poll by a different organization, it said that there was 11 percent in the country for Americans who think that America should go communist.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. You're saying Congress has got the same level of approval as communist thinking, right now, pretty much at the same level.

SEABROOK: It's got less.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEABROOK: Less.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEABROOK: I mean that's - you know, we're getting to the point where when you're in single digit approval ratings, you're much better off judging the disapproval of Congress. And what you're trying to say is 91 percent of American people disapprove of the way Congress is acting. And there are those that are doing some serious soul-searching, wondering how did we get here, what do we do, and what's the path forward.

INSKEEP: NPR's congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook. Andrea, thanks very much.

SEABROOK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.