Ellison Offers Progressive View Of Debt Deal

Many members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in the House — are furious about the deal that the president has made with Republicans to get an increase in the debt ceiling. Melissa Block talks with Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat representing Minnesota's 5th Congressional District. Ellison is also the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: There has been vocal pushback some Democrats against the debt ceiling compromise. The Congressional Progressive Caucus held a news conference this afternoon laying out strong objections. Earlier today before the House vote, I spoke with the co-chair of that caucus, Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota. He explained his opposition to the bill despite some serious lobbying today from Vice President Joe Biden.

Representative KEITH ELLISON: Well, you know, I think that Vice President Biden is a great leader and I admire him but quite frankly he was given a bad situation to start with and they tried to do some things to mitigate the harm but ultimately this thing takes the country in the wrong direction. Basically, we're taking money out of the economy at a time when the country needs there to be more economic activity.

ELLISON: When you start cutting programs, cutting a trillion dollars out of the economy, what you're literally doing is you're laying off people; you're discontinuing spending that could well go towards putting people to work. And let me tell you, I don't care if you work for the government or not, a government check spends like any other check and the people who sell those folks groceries don't care whether their workers are from the government or from the private sector. So, the bottom line is this is rejectionary(ph) at a time when our country's trying to recover from a recession. And if you look back at 1937, when people just like the Tea Party Republicans forced Roosevelt to put the brakes on spending, they caused a double-dip recession and I'm afraid that's just going to happen now.

BLOCK: But, Congressman Ellison, even if you're unhappy with the compromise, are you willing to let the country default on its debt with your no vote?

ELLISON: Well, the bottom line is I voted for a clean debt ceiling already back in March. I mean, I just don't feel that it's fair for Tea Party Republicans to force this crisis and force a terrible compromise, And then if I don't accede to their demands then somehow it's my fault that the country defaults? No, they created this crisis. We don't even have to be here. This is the first time in the history of the United States that a debt ceiling increase, which is a routine thing, has been linked to deficit cuts, right - and budget cuts. This is the first time. And so it's really - I really have to reject this idea that somehow that this is the responsibility of me or people who are voting no.

BLOCK: Very briefly in the time we have left, Congressman, what's your appraisal of President Obama here? Did he cave to Republican pressure?

ELLISON: No. I think President Obama's a great president. I'm a Obama supporter. But just like back last December, it's the Republicans who demanded these very harsh, very damaging cuts in order for him to do basic things. In this situation, it's just raise the debt ceiling as it's been done, you know, dozens and dozens of times before. So, I think that, you know, you got a tough hand to deal with, you tried to mitigate the harm but the harm's coming nonetheless. And so, no, I remain a very strong supporter of the president. But I don't agree with this.

BLOCK: OK. Congressman Ellison, thanks so much.

ELLISON: All right.

BLOCK: That's Congressman Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He ended up a no vote today on the debt ceiling bill, which passed the House 269 to 161, and now moves on to the Senate for a vote tomorrow.

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