Utah Republican Finds House Debt Plan Lacking

Steve Inskeep talks with Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who promises to vote against House Speaker John Boehner's plan to raise the debt ceiling.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

House Speaker John Boehner is straining to line up Republicans to vote today for a plan to raise the debt ceiling and cut spending. Some members of his own party have been saying they're skeptical, including Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, who's on the line next.

Congressman, welcome to the program.

Representative JASON CHAFFETZ (Republican, Utah): Hey, thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: As of today, this morning - because I know there are talks going on all the time - are you a no vote?

Rep. CHAFFETZ: I am a no vote.

INSKEEP: Why?

Rep. CHAFFETZ: I just - I really, truly worry that the debt is one of the single greatest threats to the United States of America, that we're talking about a problem that is multi-trillion in its depth. And I just - I think we ought to be cutting more. I just don't think it goes far enough.

INSKEEP: So Boehner's plan, which would cut - says it would cut something over a trillion dollars in spending over a decade and set up another vote to cut more spending, that's not enough, in your view.

Rep. CHAFFETZ: Well, what I really worry about is the first year number, which looks like it'll come in at about $22 billion. When you're upside down in roughly $1.4 trillion and you're going to cut $22 billion, I just worry that that's just not enough.

INSKEEP: Well, Speaker Boehner was quoted telling Republicans - including you, I believe, in no uncertain terms - to get in line and vote for this, because otherwise, you're going to create a disaster and hand a victory to President Obama. What was that meeting like?

Rep. CHAFFETZ: Well, I personally have to do what I believe is right for the country. I didn't come here to just go along, to get along. Those types of arguments about, you know, get behind me are not as persuasive as - and so when I saw the speaker - he kind of looked at me, like, hey, where are you at? And I said, look, I support you personally, but I just don't support this bill.

INSKEEP: You know, I've been reading this open letter from former Senator Fred Thompson - former Republican Senator Fred Thompson - an open letter to the House GOP, who says a lot of interesting things. But one of them is this. He says rake in your chips. You have won. You have focused the country on the problem of debt. You're going to get some reductions here over time, and you're doing it on your terms at the moment you wanted to do it. Why not take the win?

Rep. CHAFFETZ: I many ways, I think he is right. I mean, look at how far we've come. I mean, it was just February of 2010 where the Democrats and the president got a $1.9 trillion debt ceiling increase. And look where it got us. Now we're just back in the same problem again. That's ultimately why I'm voting against this, because I don't think we actually resolved the underlying problem that got us into this place in the first place.

In many ways, I think America will look back on this and be frustrated with Washington on both sides of the aisle. But we have moved the goalpost. I mean, we have changed the discussion in this country where now we're talking about how much to cut. We've focused the idea that debt is a serious problem in this country. That certainly wasn't happening, even just a couple months ago.

INSKEEP: But I want to point out also that Fred Thompson says that if you do not increase the debt limit now, you impose drastic and sudden cuts on programs - you don't know which one - in the federal government. He points out that bond and stock markets operate largely on perception, and maybe it's not wise to get everybody nervous about the U.S. economy.

This is a quote: "Conservatives especially should be mindful of unintended consequences." Do you agree, congressman, that if there is no increase in the debt ceiling, we jump head first into the unknown here?

Rep. CHAFFETZ: I think August 2nd is a very real date. I was the principle author or sponsor of Cut, Cap and Balance. I truly believe that that does solve the underlying problem. And that we...

INSKEEP: Although it's off the table, right?

Rep. CHAFFETZ: I'm sorry. What?

INSKEEP: Although, it's off the table, right? It's been defeated in the Senate. The question is what you do now that would get this done in a few days?

Rep. CHAFFETZ: Well, yeah, you could make that argument. I was terribly frustrated that the Senate didn't even debate this. I mean, it's an embarrassment that the Senate didn't even debate it. To just table it? I'm embarrassed. I think the country - I hope it's not viewed as hyper-partisan to suggest that the president never put out an actual plan. That is absolutely stunning to me.

So I believe that Cut, Cap and Balance is the best way to go. That's what I supported. I think it does go a long way. I think the central question is: Does this country want a balanced budget?

INSKEEP: We've just got about 10 seconds, Congressman. I want to set aside the future for a moment, which you've agreed is unknown, it sounds like. But the stock market is actually slipping this week. Anybody lucky enough to have a 401k is worth a little less this week. In about 10 seconds, do you think that pain on everybody's part is worth it?

Rep. CHAFFETZ: I think we have to address our national debt. It's approaching 100 percent. And to ignore it long term is to everybody's peril.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much for the time.

Rep. CHAFFETZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Jason Chaffetz is a Republican congressman from Utah, says he is voting no on the House plan that will be voted on today to raise the debt ceiling.

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