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Sen. Begich: Republicans Playing 'Russian Roulette Economics'


For now, though, we turn to the other big story of the day, and that's the government shutdown. We're in day three, and there's little sign of a compromise at this point. Republicans insist they're willing to negotiate on a spending bill to fund the government. Democrats say a short-term spending bill is no place to negotiate the new health care law.

I spoke with Democratic Senator Mark Begich of Alaska. He's also a member of the Senate Democratic leadership. Begich insists the House needs to vote to reopen the government and then Democrats will negotiate.

SENATOR MARK BEGICH: We have, you know, voted on every single proposal that's come over from the House, but one proposal we have sent over there that passed here after great debate, they still haven't taken up, which would be a clean continuing resolution, which would put the government back in operation. And then we can debate all these other issues. There's - as you know, there's not only the issues people have around health care, but, you know, we have a farm bill stuck over there.

We have an immigration bill. We have a WRDA bill. I mean, the list goes on and on. We're happy to negotiate those and sit down and work those all out. But, you know, this CR that we sent over also met their numbers. That's what's so amazing about this. It's not like, you know, it was a budget number between ours and theirs. It was their number.

BLOCK: This was the Republicans' number, in other words, that baked in the sequester cuts.

BEGICH: Yes. And, you know, on an annualized basis, we came down $70 billion. We came to their number. So, you know, this debate seems so unnecessary and is putting this economy at risk. The market is down again today. It's having direct impact on families, not only the people who are federal employees, but people who - businesses are attached to, maybe they're attached to a national park. So it's a totally unnecessary, you know, shutdown that's occurred. And we took their numbers. You know, that's what's so amazing about this.

BLOCK: A number of Republicans say that President Obama is ignoring the model of past presidents, including Ronald Reagan, who worked out deals with, at the time, House Speaker Tip O'Neill, a number of times, to stop government shutdowns. They negotiated in good faith, as argument goes, and they say President Obama has flatly said, I will not negotiate, and that's misguided.

BEGICH: I would say - as I said earlier, we've come down to their number on the budget. It's not like we went up. I mean, I don't know what negotiations is called but when you - two sides get to the table, usually you give a little on both sides. We gave it all. But to be very frank, those past negotiations, those have been around the budgets and the amount of money expenditure. And we have done that. We have compromised all the way down to their number.

BLOCK: Republicans, though, of course, would say, well, all of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act have everything to do with the budget. This is all intertwined.

BEGICH: Well, they are rehashing old battles, and I mean this by the fact that it passed the House, passed the Senate, signed into law. And the Supreme Court ruled on this. And a presidential election was decided with one candidate who lost who wanted to repeal the law. I get that there's a group over there that don't like the law in total. Do I have problems with it? Sure, I do. But I'm happy to work with folks to fix it. That's what you do when you have legislation. But what they want to do is hold this economy hostage for their own political benefit, and people are fed up with this. And I called it Russian roulette economics. That's what they're doing.

And they are - I mean, look at the market today, this week. Over the last five to six days, they've dropped over now 400 points, and that is affecting families who have rebuilt their education accounts, families who have retirements, small businesses that depend on capital to grow their business. They're impacting people for their own personal, political desires rather than what's right for this country.

BLOCK: Senator Begich, thanks for your time.

BEGICH: Thank you. Have a great day.

BLOCK: That's Senator Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.