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Sen. Warner On Why A Moderate Coalition Is Tough To Pull Off


Joining us now is Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia. Welcome to the program once again, Senator.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Thanks for having me on, Robert.

SIEGEL: Am I missing something, or did you see any progress today - or is at least different enough to you, as Tamara said it is to her?

WARNER: Well, I hope so. I think there was a growing sense of urgency that we're doing, you know, real damage to the country, and not only in terms of the shutdown. And we hear these horrific stories, and I think it's kind of odd as a horrific story comes up, the House will then say, well, let's reopen that portion of the government - the veterans or the parks, or the National Institutes of Health. I kind of feel like, does that mean we have to show more stories today? There was three Nobel Prize winners, Americans. Should that mean we should reopen the National Science Foundation so there's going to be another generation of Nobel Prize winners. It just doesn't...


WARNER: It - I was in business longer than I've been in politics. And you know, if you have a disagreement, I've never seen an approach that says we're going to shut down the business, and then also put the reputation of our business at stake, until we finish a negotiation. It's just not the way I'd ever seen this.

SIEGEL: Senator, what about the glimmer of hope that Ari Shapiro referred to? What if the raising of the debt ceiling, and the continuing resolution that keeps the government open, what if that is approved at such a short term, so that Republicans...

WARNER: Well, I think if you...

SIEGEL: ...could say, you know, if you don't do this, this will still happen; and Democrats could say, well, you lifted those threats - I mean, you know, we can talk now.

WARNER: Well, I have been part of every bipartisan effort. I was - formed the so-called Gang of Six. I say, I may work in the only place where being a gang member is a good thing.

SIEGEL: In the Senate you mean, yeah.

WARNER: I supported the Simpson-Bowles approach. Yes.


WARNER: You know, and have believed that we've got a deal with revenues through tax reform, entitlement reform. We've got to get our balance sheet right. I absolutely believe that. But the idea that we would continue to shut down the government, or get into this extraordinarily unprecedented ground of defaulting on America's debt, is beyond the pale for me. I mean, we...

SIEGEL: But what about re-opening it and paying its bills but at such a limited - for such a limited period of weeks or a couple of months?

WARNER: Well, that, I think, might give some time to have real serious negotiations. I think you've heard from the White House, I think you would hear from a lot of folks, let's go ahead, re-open the government - make sure we're not going to default - and have a negotiation. I think that's fine. But this preconditioned sense when next week we're coming upon the debt ceiling, is really an unchartered territory.

I would point out, no major industrial nation has ever defaulted. The closest that I've seen was Argentina back in 2001 - late 2001. It defaulted. It ended up with 100 percent inflation, and every family in Argentina lost 60 percent of their net worth over two or three days. I'm not saying we're Argentina, but that's the kind of unchartered territory we're potentially entering into.

SIEGEL: Sen. Warner, what do you say in response to Speaker Boehner and other Republicans who say, look, there have always been - or there often have been negotiations surrounding continuing the budget or the debt ceiling? And President Obama negotiated with him over this, and that the president is, you know, he's drawing line that's much more rigid than even he has been previously. They expected him to talk.

WARNER: I have never seen a time in my public career - and again, I was in business longer - where you would play this kind of brinksmanship with the full faith and credit of the United States and simultaneously shut down the whole enterprise of government. I think we are in pretty dangerous territory. And a lot of the tools that we had back in 2011, when we got close in terms of the Fed being able to use very easing monetary policy, we've used all those tools.

SIEGEL: What do you say to people who say well, look, this medical devices tax is something which, in the Senate took up a motion - at least, a sense of the Senate resolution - to repeal it; the vote was 79-20, in favor of doing away with it. Republicans want to do away with it. If so many people are against it, why not offer it as a fig leaf to Speaker Boehner so that you can pull back from the brink of default?

WARNER: Well, the irony of that is it actually - getting rid of that, and I was one of those ones who voted to replace it, would actually add to the debt if you don't have a pay for. So what I would argue is, doing this piecemeal approach leads us to this constant crisis on both sides, every three to six months. Let's re-open the government, get rid of the threat that America is going to default into this unchartered territory. And then yes, Democrats are going to have to give on entitlement reform. Republicans are going to have to give on revenues to tax reform. And candidly, the marginal amount we have to do on both sides, on a relative basis, is so small it would be such a job generator. It would be the single best thing we could do for our economy. Single best jobs program we could have would be to actually get rid of this fiscal overhang.

SIEGEL: Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, thank you very much for talking with us today.

WARNER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Sen. Warner is a Democrat who's been involved in many of the bipartisan efforts of recent years to try to address the budget.



You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.