Colo. Sen. Bennet On House Effort To Pass Debt Bill

Steve Inskeep talks with Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet about the forthcoming Senate vote on the debt ceiling and the partisan back and forth over the various plans.

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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. Good morning.

By now, people expected that the debt ceiling debate would move to the U.S. Senate after the House passed a bill.

KELLY: But the Senate is still waiting. Last night, the House put off its vote, unable to generate enough Republican support for the Republican bill.

INSKEEP: We've been hearing views from both parties all week on MORNING EDITION. And this morning, Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado is on the line.

Senator, welcome to the program once again.

Senator MICHAEL BENNET (Democrat, Colorado): Thank you for having me, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let me just ask directly. How do you guys plan to get out of this?

Sen. BENNET: Oh, my god. I don't know. I think that there will be a deal struck between now and August 2nd that will get us past he debt ceiling. But unfortunately I think we're still going to face the very real threat of downgrade because of Washington's inability to do something meaningful here.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the mechanics of this. The plan had been that they House would pass this Republican bill. Democrats in the Senate don't like it. You'd receive it from the House, you'd kill it and then vote on your own bill. Since the House has delayed that, we'll raise the questions in people's minds. Senate Democrats, you've got your own bill, can you just act on that?

Sen. BENNET: I think we can act on it. I think the plan, as I understand it, is still the same, which is for the House to send a bill over today for us to vote on it. It's not going to pass. And then hopefully to move on to a compromise.

INSKEEP: Meaning that you still need to wait for the House?

Sen. BENNET: That, I think, is the plan.

INSKEEP: Is there a possibility, Senator Bennet, of a repeat of the House experience, though? Democrats, of course, we should explain in the Senate you don't just need to agree amongst yourselves - 53 Democrats and Independents. You need seven Republicans. You need 60 votes altogether to keep a filibuster away in the Senate. Are you sure you're going to be able to get any bipartisan support for your bill?

Sen. BENNET: Well, I don't think that's assured at all. And I think that Washington is going through a ritual here, which is putting at risk our credit rating. And at the end of the day, the only thing that will pass is something that's bipartisan.

Look, for months I've been saying to people that in my state, which is a third Democratic, a third Republican, and a third Independent, that what people want is a material solution to this problem. They want to know that we're all in it together. And they want to know that it's bipartisan. And they want to know that the credit markets are reassured by the work that we've done.

INSKEEP: So you're not sure that either bill can pass either house right now?

Sen. BENNET: I would say that it's more likely than not that neither bill will pass either house.

INSKEEP: Senator Bennet, I want to mention that we spoke yesterday on this program with Jason Chaffetz. He a House Republican of Utah, and he's one of the no votes. He is against the Republican bill here. He's not even voting for the Republican plan. He thinks it doesn't cut enough spending. And he said, this is a quote, "I think we have to address our national debt. To ignore it long term is to everybody's peril." That is his explanation about why he's willing to put the nation and its credit rating and so forth at risk. Is he right?

Sen. BENNET: Well, he's right that we need to materially address the problem. And I've been a strong supporter of the only comprehensive and the only bipartisan plan that's been in town, which is the so-called Gang of Six plan, which takes four trillion out over the next 10 years.

But having said that, there is not one local official in my state that would willfully blow the credit rating of their municipality or their school district in the name of a political ideology.

Even if you thought that was a good idea, which I cannot imagine why you would, it's only going to make the problem worse, because every percentage increase in our interest rate is $1.3 trillion of additional debt on this nation's balance sheet.

INSKEEP: Just about 15 seconds left or so, Senator Bennet. Is the Senate as bitterly divided on this as the House seems to be, with divisions not just between Republicans and Democrats, but even inside the parties?

Sen. BENNET: I don't believe it is as bitterly divided. I think there are people of goodwill on both sides in the Senate that actually would like to stop playing these games and create a comprehensive solution to this problem.

INSKEEP: Senator, thanks very much.

Sen. BENNET: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Michael Bennet is a Democratic senator from Colorado.

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