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GOP's Short-Term Debt Deal May Be Hard Sell For House Democrats


We're going to turn now to Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen. He's the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. Welcome to the program once again.

REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: It's great to be with you.

SIEGEL: Tell me, if the Republicans are only offering a debt ceiling increase but not a re-opening of the government, should Democrats support that in Congress? Should the president sign it?

HOLLEN: Well, we don't think there's any excuse for keeping the government shut down. In fact, I think Republicans are forgetting why they shut down the government in the first place. So we don't see any reason why we shouldn't vote to re-open the government. We also believe we should commit to paying our bills on time for at least a year so we don't have this continued uncertainty in the economy. So...

SIEGEL: Well, I'm taking it down as no and that they shouldn't is what I think I'm hearing you say, or you have to accept this offer.

HOLLEN: Look, again, they have not presented any reason why we should keep the government shut down. We haven't seen anything in writing, as you know. Right now, you've got House Republicans down at the White House. We have not seen a single piece of paper. And around here, things change by the second. Speaker says he's got one plan, and then he hears from his Tea Party caucus and that changes.

So the three things we're focused on are, number one, immediately reopening the government - and the speaker has it in his power to vote now to do that - number two, to make sure we can pay our bills on time for at least a year, and, number three, we are glad Republicans now want to go to budget negotiations. We've been trying to do that since March, and we've been blocked at every turn.

SIEGEL: Speaker Boehner has described his proposal as a case of meeting of the president half-way. Is this time now for the president to, in some way, alter his position, as it's been stated so far, in order to achieve the kind of deal that would reopen the government?

HOLLEN: Well, two things. Number one, the president has been open and willing and wanting to have a negotiation on the budget issues for a very long time. What the president has said is that he's not going to allow the entire economy to be threatened in exchange for adopting the Republican budget positions. Now with respect to debt ceiling, the president has emphasized that we'd all be better off if we remove the cloud of uncertainty for at least a year.

But he's also indicated that the worst-case scenario is if we were to default. And so he left open the window if that's something that, you know, Republicans would insist on but made the point very clearly that that's not good for the country.

SIEGEL: As you understand it, is Speaker Boehner proposing something that he has the Republicans - he has enough Republicans behind it to pass? As best you understand, is the entire caucus there?

HOLLEN: And I have no idea, and trying to read the Republican House caucus is a very risky proposition because, as we know, the speaker mentioned on national television that he had reached an agreement with Harry Reid when it came to keeping the government open. And a short time later, when Senator Cruz, you know, ginned up all this activity, he no longer could keep that commitment.

SIEGEL: But giving it six weeks compared to default is pretty good. If he didn't have a majority, would Democrats help him get one?

HOLLEN: Well, we want to open the government, and there is a majority to open the government. And he should allow the vote, Democrats and Republicans, working together to open the government just as he should allow a vote on the continuation of the debt ceiling, whether it's for six weeks or for one year.

SIEGEL: So you'd say he doesn't get the debt - the short-term debt ceiling extension if he doesn't put continuing resolution to the floor and vote on it?

HOLLEN: What I'm saying is he has not provided any reason for why he will not allow the government to open other than the fact that he has a small faction of his caucus that has dug in and refuses to do that.

SIEGEL: Congressman Van Hollen, thanks for talking with us about what is obviously, at best, a work in progress.

HOLLEN: Yes, thank you.


HOLLEN: I think that's probably the best description.

SIEGEL: All right. So Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen is the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. Thank you very much.

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