Debt Ceiling Danger Clear To Mich. Congressman

House Republican Bill Huizenga of Michigan says it's critical for the debt ceiling to be raised, but that doesn't mean he would vote for it. Host Scott Simon talks with Huizenga about the debt and deficit stalemate.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

We're going to get a perspective on the debt and deficit debate from a member of the House Republican caucus now. Congressman Bill Huizenga of Michigan joins us from his office on Capitol Hill. Welcome back, Congressman. Thanks for being with us.

BILL HUIZENGA: Oh, good to be with you again, Scott.

SIMON: You told the Muskegon, Michigan Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce that it's critical for the debt ceiling to be raised, but that doesn't mean that you'd vote for it. Explain that reasoning to us if you could, please.

HUIZENGA: I think it's pretty universally understood that having us go into default is not what should happen. None of us wants that. None of us are pursuing that. We're pursuing real change. We're pursuing real solutions. I'm just frustrated because I'm not convinced yet; I haven't seen it yet out of the administration or out of the Senate, that we've got a plan. Now I think that's changing with the House Republicans coming forward with plans, and so I think we can do that. But I want to make sure that this, whatever the solution is, is something that fundamentally changes the trajectory of our spending as a country and changes the bad habits that got us into where we are.

SIMON: So when the president calls for a large scale package to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, is that a framework you can work with?

HUIZENGA: Well, quite honestly, I don't believe that that's large scale. When we break down the $4 trillion, a trillion of that is in interest savings, a trillion of that is in tax increases, so it's really $2 trillion that he's been talking about in actually cuts. And when you look at the amount of overspending that we're doing, that it really isn't going to cut it.

SIMON: What would be enough?

HUIZENGA: If there were some other things linked up with that. If we're talking purely numbers, that doesn't get there. If we are talking about putting in some sort of caps within the percentage of the GDP that we will spend in government, if we're talking about a balanced budget amendment, that's something I ran on, I think would be very important. It's something that in the state of Michigan, where I served in the legislature, we have a constitutional requirement to balance the budget every year.

It forces a different conversation. If you are making a conscious decision to spend something that you don't have, you either have one or two ways to address that: either raise taxes to get the money to spend it, or you don't spend it.

SIMON: The debt ceiling was raised - we have all learned in recent weeks - 17 times under President Reagan, four times under President Clinton and seven times under President George W. Bush. Why is this time different?

HUIZENGA: Well, I was actually working for my predecessor, Pete Hoekstra, for six of those years from 1997 through until 2003. And everybody sort of has this recollection that it was all peaches and cream and no questions were asked and oh, sure, let's just, you know, raise the debt ceiling. And I remember it very differently.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HUIZENGA: I remember people being very upset and not understanding why we were going into this kind of debt. And have no doubt, whether it was Republican administrations or Democrat administrations, we've been overspending for too long. Now in the last couple of years it has been absolutely kicked into overdrive and I think it has just forced its way to the front and has a prominence now that it never had before.

SIMON: Congressman, unlike some other House freshmen, you know the terrain pretty well. When people talk about the good ol' days when the parties got along and they didn't draw lines in the sand...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: ...are we romancing those days?

HUIZENGA: I think we are. And it's ironic that you bring it up. I had a group out on the Speaker's balcony, which is the back side of the Capitol that overlooks where the president gets inaugurated. And you look down Pennsylvania Avenue and what's blocking the way to see the White House? It's the Department of Treasury. And why? Andrew Jackson was mad at Congress at the time and had the architect and the builders move the building so he could block the view from the White House of the Capitol because he didn't want to see the detestable Congress.

So, you know, when we talk about how it was all Kumbaya and roasting marshmallows around the fire, it isn't exactly accurate.

SIMON: Congressman Bill Huizenga of Michigan, thanks so much for being with us.

HUIZENGA: Hey, my pleasure. Thanks again, Scott.

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