'Satan Sandwich': Cleaver Weighs In On Debt Deal

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Steve Inskeep talks with Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri about raising the debt ceiling and the deal struck between the White House and Senate leaders. Cleaver is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Over the weekend, he called the deal "a sugar-coated Satan sandwich."

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some Republicans voted no on yesterday's deal, along with about half the Democrats, including Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus. Mr. Cleaver became instantly famous in some circles when he described the deal as, quote, "a sugar-coated Satan sandwich." And Congressman Cleaver is on the line.

Welcome to the program.

Representative EMANUEL CLEAVER (Democrat, Missouri): Good morning. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: Congressman, forgive me, I just have to begin by mentioning that we looked up a Satan sandwich. It's a variation on a MoonPie and it actually seemed kind of tasty.

Rep. CLEAVER: I don't think it's going to be tasty at all. People are going to begin to take bites of it shortly. It's not a very tasty meal. I use that kind of language because I wanted people to understand that every deal is not a good deal, and you can't find a single Democrat in Washington who voted for this deal who thinks it was a good one.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, why is it so bad?

Rep. CLEAVER: Well, first of all, it's not fair and balanced. What we just said to the people of this country is that, look, we've got a problem. We've got to do some deficit reduction. And we're going to ask working-class people, middle income people to make a sacrifice. If you happen to be wealthy, don't worry about it - you don't have to make up for a sacrifice. And this is the weirdest thing I've ever seen.

We've had this debt ceiling since 1970, and we probably never should have created it - at least our ancestors shouldn't have. And we've never seen a vote on the debt ceiling connected to the deficit reduction...

INSKEEP: Congressman, Im sorry to interrupt. I just got a couple of minutes here. I want to ask you a couple of quick questions, if I might.

Yesterday on this program, Congressman David Dreier, Republican of California was with us. He said we have to change the course we're on. And White House officials are saying, Congressman, that there is also a progressive argument, as they put it, before deficit cutting.

Isn't there an argument to be made that whatever your politics, you have to make the numbers add up over the long term? Right now they don't. And this deal would at least fix that a little bit over time?

Rep. CLEAVER: Absolutely, we need to make some very, very hard decisions on deficit reduction. I am for that. But keep in mind that the super committee can't work. And the reason is that the speaker has already said he was not going to appoint anyone to the committee who would agree to tax increases or revenue enhancements. That means that the committee will not work. And if it doesn't work then we end up making across-the-board cuts.

That's the most ridiculous thing that can happen because it means that you start cutting Head Start and many other programs that I think are of valuable to this country.

INSKEEP: Well, then because of those cuts, while both sides - I'm so sorry, Congressman. Because of those cuts - in a few seconds - because of those cuts it would be automatic if they don't agree on something that everybody can sign onto. In just about 10 seconds, isn't there is some incentive to come up with what you would call a more balanced approach?

Rep. CLEAVER: If that were the case, we wouldn't have been in a much - into the abyss until yesterday. Because we have plenty incentives; the markets were trembling, people in the country had become disgusted, and still most of the new Republicans voted against it.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much.

Rep. CLEAVER: Sure, good to talk with you.

INSKEEP: Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

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