Penn. Voters Talk About The Debt Ceiling

Voters in Pennsylvania talk about the political fight over the debt ceiling. Some are perplexed because they haven't focused on the battle — others, because they have. And no one is happy with the nation's capital.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Americans outside the Capitol Beltway seemed to be watching the recent budget and debt ceiling debate in Washington with a mix of frustration, dread and understandable confusion.

NPR's Don Gonyea has spent the past two days talking to voters in Pennsylvania about the negotiations between the president and Republican leaders in Congress. Pennsylvania has established itself as one of those key swing states in presidential elections, and Don found divided opinions and a dose of indifference.

DON GONYEA: Covering politics, you spend a lot of time walking up to people on the street, in restaurants and in all kinds of places to ask them what they think about this candidate or that or one issue or another. But on this particular topic, the debt ceiling and all of the heat it's produced in Washington this week, the most common initial reaction I get from people is a wince, which basically says do you really what me to talk about that.

There was this from 41-year-old state employee Brian Crowe(ph) in downtown Harrisburg.

Mr. BRIAN CROWE (State Employee): I need good news, not bad news.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CROWE: Too much stress at work and I simply don't care after 5 o'clock. I need to get away from it. It's like, I don't really care.

GONYEA: A few blocks away, at a downtown bus stop, I asked 62-year-old Nancy Vensaya(ph), a city worker, if she's watching.

Ms. NANCY VENSAYA: (City Worker): Not really.

GONYEA: When I say debt ceiling?

Ms. VENSAYA: Well, I know what it means, yeah, but I don't know a lot about it either.

GONYEA: And just down the street, even those who are following the issue closely give you answers like this.

Mr. CLIFF HOWENSTEIN(ph): Well, I probably can't use the words here that I would like to use, but I think it's crazy.

GONYEA: That's 66-year-old retiree Cliff Howenstein who says he's a Republican concerned about runaway government spending and the deficit. He applauds GOP efforts to hold the line on spending and says they should only agree to raise the debt ceiling if there's a rock-solid deal that mandates a balanced budget. He is far from hopeful about how all this will play out.

Mr. HOWENSTEIN: I think the problem now with a divided Congress that it's very difficult to get anything done and it's very disheartening, I think, to the citizens of the U.S.

GONYEA: From Harrisburg, I head up to Allentown, where the Hamilton Family Restaurant has been a gathering place for locals since the 1950s.

Unidentified Woman #1: All right, Donna, bye.

Ms. DONNA FRANK(ph): All right, kiddo.

Unidentified Woman #2: So long, Donna.

Ms. FRANK: OK.

Unidentified Woman #2: All right.

GONYEA: Donna Frank is sitting at the counter. I asked her age. She laughs and says just say over 65. She says she's had a full career as an office worker for a steel company. I asked if she's retired.

Ms. FRANK: I'm partially retired.

GONYEA: OK.

Ms. FRANK: I retired twice already.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FRANK: I keep going back to work.

GONYEA: Because you want to or because...

Ms. FRANK: No, because I have to.

GONYEA: And Frank says she's worried when she hears about potential cuts to Medicare and Social Security. She says when they balance the budget, it's the little guy who pays, especially senior citizens. She says she voted for President Obama and is reasonably pleased with the job he's doing. She says she'll vote for him again.

But seated at a table in the restaurant, 79-year-old Carl Kuchar(ph) says the end of the Obama presidency can't come soon enough for him. He says the handling of the debt ceiling confirms that for him.

Mr. CARL KUCHAR: I think he's an egomaniac. I think it's true. I think he's putting one over on us, really.

GONYEA: Kuchar is a retired teacher who says he's a former Republican who became a Democrat for 40 years and who is now a Republican again. As for the predicted economic catastrophe if the debt ceiling is not raised...

Mr. KUCHAR: I don't know if all of that is true. You hear one person say that oh, this happens time and again, and then the next guy says with so much apparently authority too says exactly the opposite. So I don't know what to believe.

GONYEA: Then, he makes it clear. He just assumed be talking about anything else over his morning coffee.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Allentown.

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