Debt Deal: A Democrat's Perspective

Renee Montagne talks with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri about the deal on the debt ceiling.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Let's hear two more responses to the debt ceiling agreement from lawmakers who will be asked to vote on it. First, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri.

Welcome to the program.

Senator CLAIRE MCCASKILL (Democrat, Missouri): Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's begin with President Obama saying that this was not the deal that he preferred. That's his language. How close or how far removed is this deal from what you would've hoped for?

Sen. MCCASKILL: Well, it's a compromise. But I am ecstatic about compromise. I was beginning to worry that Washington had forgotten that some of the brightest moments in this country had been forged around compromises. So it's not perfect, but we have avoided the massive dismantling of Medicare that the House Republicans wanted.

We have an opportunity to look at real tax reform, take some of the goodies out of the tax code, level the playing field so that we just don't have the powerful people that can buy lobbyists that get tax breaks. And, you know, we've got a long way to go on the second step of this compromise. And that's what this committee will have to work on through the fall.

But the good news is that assuming that the people in the House, you know, don't lose their minds today, we will get this done and our nation will not default for the first time in history.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about that committee that you mentioned. In a way, though, this deal could be looked at as creating another crisis, even hostage situation, in the sense that are a trillion dollars worth of spending cuts right now - part of the deal.

But the committee, this committee, is supposed to find more deficit reduction. If they don't agree, automatic cuts take effect. I mean, what are we looking at in terms of a Congress that seems to need a gun to its head in order to accomplish anything?

Sen. MCCASKILL: Well, this isn't unusual. You know, in fact, this compromise is fashioned after two things - Gramm-Rudman, which was done a few decades ago to try to instill some fiscal discipline, and also the way we close military bases, the BRAC commission, because in those instances we found that every individual senator wants to protect their district. And so you have to allow just an up or down vote with no amendments.

And I guess the bottom line is that too many people come to Washington and want to be loved. And the way you're loved is by always saying yes and never saying no. We are not wired - Washington is not wired - to say no. And so we need that extra push. And so what we've put in this compromise is some discipline that will hopefully give us the push necessary to get our fiscal house in order.

MONTAGNE: Although, let's talk about one wing of your party that is seeming to be saying no. The co-chair of the Congressional Progressive caucus has said in a statement last night that he won't back the deal in its current form. Can it pass without the support of this progressive caucus?

Sen. MCCASKILL: I think it can. I think as people get into the details of the agreement - what I looked for first, as I reviewed the agreement, was what happens with Medicare, because I have been very worried that some of these Republicans really want to get rid of the Medicare program.

And what I found was that worst-case scenario, that is the committee fails and there is this automatic cut, it is only a maximum of a 2 percent cut in Medicare and it can only come on the providers' side of the equation. No cuts to benefits.

MONTAGNE: So what you're saying is these automatic cuts from your point of view aren't that harsh?

Sen. MCCASKILL: It's going to be tough, because people are going to feel them. But it is going to maintain - it completely exempts Social Security. It completely exempts the safety net programs we have for the poor in this country. It exempts food stamps. It exempts Medicaid.

So I do think there are protections in this agreement for many of the values that I came to Washington wanting to fight for. So I think that most progressives in Congress, once they realize the details of the agreement, are going to feel better about it.

MONTAGNE: Senator, thank you very much.

Sen. MCCASKILL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Senator Claire McCaskill is a Democrat from Missouri.

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