Lawmakers From Rival Parties Echo Budget Focus
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A campaign marked by stunningly divisive rhetoric ended last night on a note of agreement. OK, agreement is too strong a word. But lawmakers of different parties, at least, began to talk of how they might address a common problem.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Let's listen to two politicians who joined our live election coverage last night, and spoke with our colleague Robert Siegel. The first is Republican Mike Lee.
Senator-elect MIKE LEE (Republican, Utah): What I wanted to avoid at all costs is mortgaging the future of our unborn grandchildren. It simply isn't fair. It's not American. It's not right.
MONTAGNE: Lee is a Tea Party candidate who won a Senate seat from Utah. He favors a balanced budget, avoiding any more government debt - which raised a question.
ROBERT SIEGEL: Are you prepared to go to the brink in Washington, and take it to the point of government closure, if need be?
Senator-elect LEE: Well, uh, look, we can all talk about the possibility of closure. But the fact is, there are ways of avoiding that and I think we need to push for an automatic continuing resolution, so that, in the event that the Congress and president are able to achieve agreement on a budget, that they can move forward with something that just continues to fund the government with last year's budget - until such time as they can pass a real budget.
SIEGEL: And does that mean the debt ceiling - the debt limit - as well, to avoid that kind of catastrophic shutdown?
Senator-elect LEE: No, I think we can do that with - and avoid the debt ceiling. But I think we're going to have to make some cuts.
MONTAGNE: What you hear, there, is a new senator wrestling with a dilemma. He doesn't want to add any debt, but also doesn't want to go too far.
INSKEEP: Mike Lee knows that when Republicans shut down the government in the 1990s it was politically disastrous. Also last night, we heard from Richard Durbin of Illinois, who is the number two Democrat in the Senate.
Senator RICHARD DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): We need to sit down and work out an agreement, giving on both sides, to find a compromise that keeps this economy and country moving forward.
ROBERT SIEGEL: What could you give? What could Democrats give in those conversations?
Senator DURBIN: We're going to be giving on spending I'm sure. I can see that the president's budget numbers, we will be cutting back from those as we already have - maybe even deeper. And spending cuts are part of the road toward deficit reduction. I will add, though - and this is a minority position - that if we take too much money out of the economy at this moment in time before we've recovered from this recession, we run a very real risk of plummeting, again, into a bad economic circumstance.
SIEGEL: You're speaking...
MONTAGNE: The conversation continued, as it will in Washington, D.C. next year. In the statements of Richard Durbin and Mike Lee, you hear some agreement of the broad direction the federal budget needs to go.
INSKEEP: You also hear some hints of disagreement on how to handle the vast job ahead - reducing trillion dollar deficits without harming the economy in a poisonous political environment.