Two Washington State Women Weigh In On Debt Talks

Opinion polls suggest most Americans want to see the debt ceiling impasse resolved, even if it means a compromise they personally don't like. But that "just-get-it-done" spirit isn't universal.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: So we've heard from a state treasurer, we've heard from some members of Congress. Now, to politically active citizens in the state of Washington. Polls suggest that most Americans want Congress to resolve the impasse, but NPR's Martin Kaste talked with two women who seem as dug in as people in the other Washington.

MARTIN KASTE: A couple of years ago, a lot of the credit for starting the Tea Party movement went to a blogger known as Liberty Belle. Political junkies may recall her real name...

KELI CARENDER: Hello, my name is Keli Carender. I am a grassroots organizer extraordinaire.

KASTE: Carender was a part-time improv comedian, but she's put that on hold as her political activism has lead to a job with the national Tea Party Patriots Organization. She lives in Bremerton, across Puget Sound from Seattle. And over lunch at a local pancake place, she says she's frustrated with Republican Speaker Boehner and President Obama, but mainly President Obama.

CARENDER: When you're just playing around saying, oh, we're going to default, oh, we're not going to pay people their Social Security checks - and what kind of a leader says, I am sorry, I can't guarantee that your Social Security check is going to come out on August 3rd? I just think that's so irresponsible

KASTE: She sees the threat of default as artificial. It wouldn't be a factor, she says, if Congress would just pass legislation guaranteeing that if money runs short, the government's creditors get paid first. But she admits that as things stand there is a chance of default and a growing possibility the U.S. will lose its top credit rating. She's almost fatalistic about it.

Why should we get a great rating that's fake? I mean, what if we need a slap in the face to say this - you guys can't do this anymore?

By this, she means deficit spending. She clarifies she doesn't want to see the U.S. downgraded, but she won't let that threat break her resolve to see the budget balanced without raising taxes.

Across the Sound in Seattle, Tracy Lake can't believe that anyone would be willing to risk the U.S. credit rating.

TRACY LAKE: It's probably the most valued asset we have in a global economy, is the faith in credit of our ability to pay something back. And the fact that we've already purchased goods and services, and now we're deciding whether or not we're going to pay for them is just plain wrong.

KASTE: Lake is a real estate developer and she's worried that a downgrade would raise interest rates and make it harder to get the loans she needs to run her business. Like Carender, she's politically active but she's part of Responsible Wealth, an organization of well-to-do types that want to pay higher taxes.

LAKE: The only right and moral thing is to tax the wealthy, wealthier part of our population.

KASTE: Be completely honest. If you had to pay a higher tax rate, wouldn't that suppress you're productivity as a company, or your ability to employ people?

LAKE: Yes, it would. But I look at it this way: I am where I am because of opportunities afforded me because of our economic structure, because of our culture, because of the freedom and access to education. Wealthy Americans owe this due bill back to our country for the opportunity to earn great sums of money.

KASTE: Because the debt ballooned after the income tax cuts of the early 2000s, she says it's just logical, obvious that any debt ceiling deal should also restore some of those taxes. And that ultimately is the irreconcilable point, both in Washington, D.C. and between these two women in Washington state.

The way the Tea Party's Keli Carender sees it, raising taxes - any taxes - is simply nonnegotiable.

CARENDER: To me, if we raise the debt ceiling at all, that's the compromise on our end.

KASTE: And whatever the outcome of this particular crisis, she says she expects more to come.

CARENDER: It's going to be a standoff, after standoff, after standoff.

KASTE: Is that good for the country to have all of these crises?

CARENDER: I think right now it's better to have a lot of these things out before the election.

KASTE: Because, she says, it's only with a series of these high-stakes congressional votes that people will really know where their elected officials stand.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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