Blunt Discusses Boehner's Debt Ceiling Bill

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Robert Siegel interviews Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri about House Speaker John Boehner's bill to raise the debt ceiling — and what the Senate might do if it passes the House.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: I spoke earlier today, before the House delayed its vote, with Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. He's a freshman Republican senator, but a longtime veteran of the House, where he was in the Republican leadership. And I asked him, when he's finally called on to vote for or against a debt ceiling bill, what for him is nonnegotiable? What are his bright lines?

Senator ROY BLUNT: Well, you know, I think the bright line that people took too long to understand was that there's a Republican House, there's a Democrat Senate, there's a Democrat in the White House. At the end of the day, the president and everybody else should have figured out as early as possible this is going to have some conclusion that isn't going to be perfect from anybody's point of view, but is the best thing that can be done. And I think there's enough common points between the McConnell ideas, the Reid ideas and the Boehner ideas that we're going to see a way to move forward here. And it's not the way I would have written it, but it does do some of the things that need to be done...

SIEGEL: But here's something - but Senator, here's something that the Boehner plan and the Reid plan, so much as we know about them, don't have in common. That's the timeline. Senator Reid is talking about raising the debt ceiling through the end of next year. It's not what Republicans want. Is it a complete deal-breaker for you or can you see bending in that direction to get the debt ceiling raised?

BLUNT: You know, I think that is what Republicans and everybody else wanted initially, but we've just run out of time for that. You can't get that done in a way, in my opinion, that raises the debt ceiling until the end of next year and satisfies the other needs that members of the Congress and the country have right now, which is what are we going to do about the behavioral and structural changes we need? So I think it's almost certain that you're going to have at least one other vote.

And one place you can look is the Boehner plan doesn't allow that second vote to happen unless specific tests have been met. There may be another way to look at that so that you do have another vote later this year, but it's more certain than the second vote that the Boehner plan would allow.

SIEGEL: But let's say that the - as you foresee it, the compromise might include a second vote and without the device that would make that almost impossible. The Republicans are still going to be a majority in the House. The Democrats are still going to be a majority in the Senate. President Obama's still going to be the president. Why should that debate be any more productive than what we've seen this summer?

BLUNT: Well, actually, I think you go back to Senator Reid's initial idea. So here I am, a Republican saying, let's look at Senator Reid's idea, which was let's have a select committee, not an outside commission, but let's have the Congress doing its job, coming back with a set of legislative proposals between now and the end of the year that have to be voted on, up or down, and that report, very likely, becomes the trigger, whether it's successful or not, to then allow the president to ask for a second amount of money that gets to the end of the year.

I think, even though I'm of the minority in the Senate, I'm for that Senate vote being 51 votes instead of 60. Let's do this in a way that absolutely comes as close as possible to ensuring the right result for the country and the economy.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you to think back to 2008 for us for a moment when you were in the House leadership and the TARP vote came up. It was defeated and the markets crashed and the mind was focused. First of all, is that experience any guide to you right now as to what should happen? And do you feel that - I mean, nobody especially wanted that to happen, but do you feel it could be a slippery slope yet, which one house or the other could slide down?

BLUNT: I thought in 2008 there was a big mistake made that day that Speaker Boehner, I believe, has not made, which is the leaders gave up the element of time. The speaker said, we're going to vote on this by noon on whatever day the day was and so, suddenly, the members that wanted to vote no knew they only had to hold out until noon. The big advantage you've got if you're the leader is say, we're going to vote on this when we have the votes.

And by the way, members, you're going to stay here 'til we have the votes. And that's the way to make something like that happen. And by the way, with all the negative things said about that vote, looking at the money that the government's actually made, it may have been the most profitable thing the government did since land sales under the Homestead Act.

SIEGEL: The TARP, you're saying.

BLUNT: Exactly.

SIEGEL: Well, Senator Blunt, thank you very much for talking with us.

BLUNT: Good to talk to you.

SIEGEL: That's Roy Blunt, Republican senator from Missouri.

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