Geithner Meets With GOP Freshmen

Tuesday's show vote in the House against raising the debt ceiling may not have been what rattled Wall Street, and the financial markets are somewhat accustomed to partisan shenanigans on Capitol Hill. The question now is whether the infusion of GOP freshmen, who so strongly oppose spending, will take this year's showdown beyond the brink. Thursday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner talked to the freshmen. NPR's Andrea Seabrook talks to Michele Norris.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The economic recovery may be stalling, but Washington seems determined not to go the route of another stimulus. Instead, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are locked in a standoff over reducing the deficit and raising the debt limit.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner forecasts that August 2nd is the deadline for extending the government's borrowing authority. But it's unclear when or if House Republicans, especially anti-spending freshman, will blink. Today, the Treasury Secretary was on the Hill meeting with those freshmen.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook joins us now from the Capitol. And, Andrea, what happened in the meeting?

ANDREA SEABROOK: Well, they talked, which may not sound like big news, but the fact that the Republicans that are so adamant against raising the debt ceiling, especially those freshman, as you say. There are many of them, 87 freshman Republicans who can swing a vote in one way or the other when it's party line. Especially with them, it's very important that there was talking going on.

He took questions, and the president of the freshman class, Austin Scott of Georgia, said it was a good meeting. Let's listen to what he had to say.

Representative AUSTIN SCOTT (Republican, Georgia): I just want to thank Secretary Geithner for coming and meeting with us. As far as we're concerned, everything that we got in there from him is a step in the right direction, that we're having open and honest dialogue in how we move forward.

SEABROOK: It's quite striking, actually, Robert, considering the political battles we've had recently.

SIEGEL: Now, you spoke with some Republican freshman both before and after the meeting with Secretary Geithner. Did it change their thinking on the issue at all?

SEABROOK: Well, it didn't seem to, you know, it wasn't sort of a strike of lightning sort of meeting. I mean, listen to freshman Republican Diane Black of Tennessee. When she came out of the meeting, she still said, we want to plan. Listen to what she said.

Representative DIANE BLACK (Republican, Tennessee): We asked specifically in this meeting, as we asked in the meeting yesterday with the president, for a plan. It's awfully difficult to talk and have a conversation about what we are able to negotiate between the two if there's not a plan.

SEABROOK: It's similar to what lawmakers were saying before the meeting we want to see concrete details. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina is one of those new freshman and he said they're tired of watching the debt limit being raised and raised and raised, over and over again.

Representative TREY GOWDY (Republican, South Carolina): So it's not a debt limit. It's a debt suggestion. It's a debt idea. But it's not a debt limit.

SEABROOK: Debt suggestion, I thought that was kind of funny. Pennsylvania Republican Lou Barletta was also interesting to me. He's sort of torn on the issue. He put it hypothetically this way.

Representative LOU BARLETTA (Republican, Pennsylvania): If one of my daughters took my credit card and ran it up to the limit, would I call the credit card company and tell them to raise the limit? My answer would be no. On the other hand, I would pay the bill because we owe it.

SEABROOK: So, while all of the media, and often ourselves included, might consider this a battle or put it in really charged terms, it sounds like there's some willingness here to come out with some kind of plan everyone can agree on in some way.

SIEGEL: Well, what does the House Republican leadership say about all this?

SEABROOK: Well, Speaker Boehner came out today and he said he wants the spending cuts to be the cuts to be larger than any debt limit increase would be. That is the line in the sand that he set today.

SIEGEL: Of course, that means if there's a very small increase of the debt ceiling, you could have fewer cuts that you've agreed to. How do you see all this playing out?

SEABROOK: Well, you know, to me, it seems sort of unimaginable that they won't reach the debt limit. I mean, you've got to bolster the full faith and credit of the United States here. But it sounds like they're really coming to a point where they're going to come out with some kind of plan. A lot negotiating behind closed doors, and we'll see what they come up with.

SIEGEL: Okay, thank you, Andrea.

SEABROOK: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook.

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