Conservatives, Progressives Discuss Debt Ceiling

Rep. Michelle Bachmann will vote against House Speaker John Boehner debt ceiling plan because it lifts the debt ceiling, and she has promised her fans she won't vote for that. As she speaks to National Press Club Thursday, MoveOn.org holds a rally opposing cuts to programs on Capitol Hill.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host: As the House prepared to vote on the debt ceiling today, the debate was taken up elsewhere in Washington as well. At the National Press Club, Republican congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann restated her opposition to raising the debt limit. Also, on the grounds of the Capitol, labor and progressive groups voiced their opposition to potential GOP spending cuts.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Bachmann has made her opposition to raising the debt ceiling one of the focal points of her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. At the Press Club today, she reiterated that while she supports Speaker John Boehner, he would not have her vote on this bill today.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN: I will not be casting my vote for that bill and we will be casting our votes later this afternoon. I cannot. I am committed to not raising the debt ceiling.

NAYLOR: Bachmann says she does not believe for a moment, in her words, that we will lose the full faith in credit of the United States if the debt ceiling is not raised. She accused President Obama of a failure of leadership for not being engaged, as she put it, by proposing his own debt ceiling and spending cut proposal. But then she said nothing Congress is likely to consider will be enough to win her support.

BACHMANN: There are several congressional plans. I'm sure you are continuing to cover all of them as they emerge from Capitol Hill, dealing with the current crisis. And the problem is all of them, all of them, begin with the flawed assumption that we must raise the debt limit. That's the flaw.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Everybody with us. (Singing) This land is your land. This land is my land...

NAYLOR: Meanwhile, outside the Capitol, several hundred people turned out for a steamy noonday rally led by an assortment of progressive groups, from Planned Parenthood to MoveOn.org. A procession of Democratic lawmakers and other speakers made clear they were none too happy either with what was going on inside the Capitol.

John Gage, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said Congress had its priorities wrong.

JOHN GAGE: Here we are going into a debt crisis when we really have a jobs crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GAGE: We've lost nine million jobs, yet they say this is not a revenue issue, it's a spending issue. The hell it is. It's a revenue issue. We had those nine million jobs, we wouldn't be in the shape we're in.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Tax the rich.

NAYLOR: Taxing the rich was a common sentiment among the signs at the rally, admonishing the GOP not to destroy the economy and to save the American dream. Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, of California, expressed the concern shared by many in his party that the sharp spending cuts being called for as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling will slash the safety net.

Representative JOHN GARAMENDI: We stand firm for Social Security. We stand firm for Medicare. And we will not let the Republicans take it away. We will not let it happen. We will not let it happen.

NAYLOR: Neither Bachmann nor the progressive groups were likely to have changed many votes with her words today. But the message each carried outside the Capitol spoke volumes about the gulf between the two warring parties inside.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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