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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sen. Whitehouse: Get Nation Back To ‘Regular Order’

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, center, a Democrat from Rhode Island. (whitehouse.senate.gov)

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, center, a Democrat from Rhode Island. (whitehouse.senate.gov)

The details of the Senate’s proposed budget deal have yet to be announced. It will most likely be a temporary measure.

But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, says he hopes for a more lasting solution to come from the negotiations.

“We want to get back to what the Republicans have said they’ve been wanting for all this time, which is regular order,” Whitehouse told Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson. “And regular order is to let the appropriators do their work and negotiate between the House and the Senate on the budget and set a number and fill in the appropriations to the number, and move on.”




Well, for more on what's happening in Washington today, we're joined by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Senator, would you be OK with a bill that raises the debt ceiling until February, opens the government until January, if it also makes changes to the health care law?

SENATOR SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: I don't think that's where we are at this point. I think that the actions in the Senate right now, and it appears from the signals that both the majority leader and the minority leader are sending, that they have a sufficient agreement to take back to their caucuses when we meet.

What we've said all along, and what I think the deal will frame out, is that we need to pay our bills. We can't have the debt limit cause a default on our payments. That's just crazy talk. So we need to lift the debt limit, and frankly the longer we do I think the better. But if the Republicans for some reason want to come back and vote very soon to raise the debt limit again, I guess that's their - that can be their call. But it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me.

And then we need to reopen the government. We've always said that that was a priority, and on that one, the shorter the period the better because we want to get back to what the Republicans have said they've been wanting for all this time, which is regular order. And regular order is to let the appropriators do their work and negotiate between the House and the Senate on the budget and set a number and fill in the appropriations to the number and move on.

If there's anything on the health care bill, it'll have something to do with the technical enforcement of the income verification piece, which is not really related to the bill but more related to kind of, you know, fraud protection and making sure that it's run honestly.

HOBSON: So you will not support anything that, for example, delays the medical device tax?

WHITEHOUSE: I don't think I'm going to have that choice presented to me. What I've heard is that the medical device tax has not been touched in the deal that's been negotiated in the Senate, and I think when the Senate comes together, particularly if it passes in bipartisan fashion, and I think with the prospect of catastrophe looming in just two days if we default, we probably will get it out of the Senate in bipartisan fashion, and then that puts the ball back into Speaker Boehner's court.

He will then have to make the choice that he's had before him through this entire unnecessary crisis, which is simply to call up a Senate-passed measure for a vote in the House, have it pass and move on.

HOBSON: Well, if Congress is able to get past this hurdle right now, don't we end up exactly at this place in a few months from now? And do you think anything has happened in the last couple of weeks through this crisis that would convince lawmakers not to do business in this way next time?

WHITEHOUSE: Yeah, absolutely. I think that for the hard right Republican Tea Party types, they thought that this was their secret weapon, that they were going to be able to grab hold of the debt limit, they were going to be able to shut the government down, and by doing so they'd be able to go back and re-litigate a lot of laws already passed.

And they found out two things: One, they couldn't do that; and two, picking up that hot stove burned the heck out of their hands. And I don't think they're going to want to go back and put their hands on that hot stove again considering how badly they've been burned by pulling this stunt this time.

HOBSON: But a lot of people would have said that that lesson was learned back in 2011.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, memories are short in Washington, perhaps, but they're not six to 10 weeks short. I mean, you've got a whole House full of people who are going to have to go and face their electorate in 2014. Those folks are not going to have forgotten what was done to them. They're going to have some explaining to do, and I don't think they're going to want to go back and grab the hot stove again.

HOBSON: Do you think that the U.S. economy and the credibility of the U.S. has suffered long-term damage from this? There was a commentary that was reported on in a Chinese state-run newspaper published over the weekend that said it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world, which is a sentiment that I think if you ask people across parts of Europe they'd probably agree with.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I think the unfortunate thing is that the Tea Party folks have in fact created that kind of advantage for our international adversaries. They have, in fact, harmed the country that they claim to be great patriots of. But my feeling is that in the long run, the freedom of the American economy, the talent of American enterprise, the incredible support that we give for science and research and development will continue to have us be the strongest economy in the world and the currency of last resort for everyone.

I think it would take a full-blown default to actually break that. But the threat will hurt people. It will raise interest rates a little, it will make people a little bit more skeptical, and ultimately the costs of being a little bit skeptical about American sovereign debt is something the taxpayers have to pay for.

So the irony here is that what the Tea Party folks trying to first go after Obamacare and then change their mind and focus on the debt and deficit was actually to raise the debt and deficit with higher interest costs in the future.

HOBSON: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, thank you so much for joining us.

WHITEHOUSE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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  • PoliticsWatcher

    Yes, Virginia, there are sensible politicians.

  • it_disqus

    This was truly enlightening. Answer 1: Republicans fault. Answer 2: Republicans fault. Answer 3: Republicans fault. Answer 4: Republicans grabbed hot stove. Answer 5: Tea Party Republicans fault.

    I laughed out loud that this Senator can say that not raising the debt limit is “crazy talk”. What is the definition of a debt limit if you raise it every time you want to spend more? Now that is crazy. It was nice of Jeremy not to ask any hard questions.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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