Reducing Deficit Must Have 'Meaningful Start'

Much of the dissent over the budget comes from the 87 freshman Republicans who were swept into Congress on an anti-establishment wave. Steve Inskeep talks to Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) about his take on the budget.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Congress has not quite finished a short-term budget deal for this fiscal year. Last Friday, Congress averted a government shutdown by reaching an agreement and also gave themselves a few extra days to finish work. But some voted against even those few extra days. The no votes included South Carolina Republican Tim Scott, elected last fall with Tea Party support. He says he is not sure yet if the deal that cuts $38 billion in spending goes far enough.

Representative TIM SCOTT (Republican, South Carolina): When you're asking for 61 billion and you end up with around 38 billion, you certainly have received more than half of what you asked for. But when you are running $1.6 trillion deficits on an annual basis, it's hard to see $38 billion as a good starting place.

INSKEEP: Did you have any sympathy for the argument of those who said, look, dealing with the deficit is a multiyear problem; you have to do it carefully, you have to do it relatively gradually, because if you don't you could easily wreck the economy?

Rep. SCOTT: (Unintelligible) that there's some truth and some logic in the fact that you can't do anything overnight that wasn't created overnight. So there is no question that we are going to have to take a methodical approach to solving our problems as a nation. But we must start somewhere and we have to have a meaningful start.

INSKEEP: Congressman, I want to play you a piece of tape, if I might. Presidential advisor David Plouffe was on a Sunday talk shows over the weekend. And he was talking about the budget battles to come. Of course this was really just a prelude for a much larger budget battles down the road, and this was Plouffe's approach to those budget battles.

Mr. DAVID PLOUFFE (Presidential Advisor): The president said, listen, we can't take a machete. We have to take a scalpel, and we're going to have to cut. So we're going to have to look carefully. What you have to do is go line by line. A careful approach to this - so that we can cut spending, we can reduce the deficit in the short and long term, but without jeopardizing our economic growth and without jeopardizing those things like education and innovation.

INSKEEP: He says use a scalpel, not a machete. Do you agree?

Rep. SCOTT: I would simply say that we must be careful and considerate with the spending cuts that we decide upon. But the real question is, can we continue to ascribe benefits and entitlements to ourselves today at the risk of eliminating those same benefits and entitlements to the next generation of Americans? My answer is no.

So whether people see that as an incision used with a scalpel or whether you use a butter knife, it's going to be painful either way. I don't think that there's a machete in the conversation because there's nothing draconian about going back to 2008 or 2006 levels. If you can't survive on, you know, 95 percent or 90 percent of your income, you are way overspending.

INSKEEP: One or two other things. One has to do with the fact that Planned Parenthood ended up being in the debate at the end of last week, and there was disagreement over exactly how, but there certainly was, language that was proposed that would have eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood, and that became a major sticking point. Do you think it is appropriate for social issues or other kinds of issues to be involved in this larger debate over the budget and the economy?

Rep. SCOTT: If they're spending $300-plus million dollars of taxpayer dollars, if it is a spending issue, all spending should be on the table. I mean we're talking about military, we're talking about Planned Family - Planned Parenthood - we're talking about every other issue that comes to the table. If we can talk about police officers and firemen, why in the world would we not be able to talk about Planned Parenthood?

INSKEEP: Well, I guess I was thinking about Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who's been on the program, and who said in the past he took a little heat for it but spoke of a truce on certain social issues because he felt that there fiscal issues that were more important. And Daniels has since asserted he's as conservative as anybody on the social issues, but he just felt it was a matter of priorities and of timing. Are there questions of priorities and timing that ought to be taken into consideration here?

Rep. SCOTT: That's the beauty of this great nation and even our Republican Party, is that we can have people who have differing opinions and still get along just fine. So ultimately what I said and what I will continue to say, that every spending issue should be on the table - with no exceptions.

INSKEEP: And one other thing, Congressman...

Rep. SCOTT: Yes, sir.

INSKEEP: ...because you did vote no on this resolution which kept the government open for several more days so that the agreement, the budget agreement, could be finalized and voted on - of course if everyone had voted no, or if a majority had voted no, the government would be shut down right now. Is it your view that the problem with the deficit is so urgent that it might actually be helpful to the country, or at least worth it to the country, to have a train wreck at some point?

Rep. SCOTT: The goal has never been to shut the government down. The goal is always to cut spending, so anyone who wants to have a conversation about cutting spending should come to the table.

INSKEEP: But you did in effect vote for that train wreck last Friday.

Rep. SCOTT: Well, I voted for us to continue to take a look at how do we cut spending based on governing and leading, not on politicizing the issue of shutting the government down.

INSKEEP: Congressman Tim Scott, thanks very much for your time.

Rep. SCOTT: Yes, sir. You have a great day.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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