The Ins And Outs Of A Shutdown

Are we headed for a government closure? Have there been any political winners in the spectacle over the past couple weeks? Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin talks with NPR's political correspondent Mara Liasson.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For more on the budget standoff, we're joined now by NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Sounds like this is happening, Mara. Are we on our way to a government shutdown?

LIASSON: I think we are on our way to a government shutdown. You just heard Tam say the Senate is going to reject this latest House version. It's going to come back to the House either late Sunday night or late Monday night. Probably not in enough time to avoid even a temporary shutdown. And the thing that's the most extraordinary about this whole spectacle is that the Republicans don't have their next step planned out. What are they going to do if they get it back? Are they going to pass a clean CR? I don't think that's possible. Speaker Boehner has decided that he has to throw his lot in with his Tea Party conservatives in the House or lose his speakership. And Democrats in the House don't seem to be in a mood to rescue him right now.

MARTIN: And the government shutdown isn't the only issue looming. There's the deadline to raise the debt ceiling - that comes up October 17th. Isn't that potential standoff actually a lot more significant?

LIASSON: It is a lot more significant. On Friday, the president said that the - breaching the debt ceiling would be an economic shutdown, not just a government shutdown. And all along, Speaker Boehner has wanted to fight on the debt ceiling, not a government shutdown. Government shutdown polls very badly. He thought that if he made the fight about the debt ceiling, he'd have more leverage with the president because it is so much more catastrophic. But his conservatives didn't want to go there yet. They want to play out the string on the government shutdown.

One theory that's floating around Washington right now is that having a little government shutdown might make a default on the debt, a breaching of the debt ceiling, less likely. And that could be the less-bad outcome. A government shutdown would be cathartic; conservatives would get what they want, and then maybe they could figure out a way to avoid a default, which would be much, much worse.

MARTIN: What about the president, Mara? At this point, he has refused to negotiate, especially on his health care law. Can he remain above the fray?

LIASSON: Well, let's be very, very specific about what the president has refused to negotiate on. He said he would absolutely not negotiate around the debt ceiling. He said Congress has already spent the money. It's their job to raise the debt ceiling so we can borrow the money to cover the bills that they've already incurred. He said he will certainly not negotiate about Obamacare in terms of defunding it or delaying it.

But he has said that he would negotiate over the budget. Remember, every time we've gotten up to this brink in the past, we've talked about the grand bargain, where the president would agree to cut entitlements and Republicans would agree to raise some kind of tax revenue. Those talks have always fallen apart, but the president said he's still ready to cut entitlements if Republicans are ready to raise revenues, which they say they are not. There is a possibility that Democrats might negotiate in the end over this medical device tax. Right now, Harry Reid says no, we're not going to include it in the CR, but in the past, 33 Democrats in the Senate have voted to get rid of this tax, which is part of Obamacare.

So, that's the one tiny little piece of the healthcare law that maybe the president would be willing to negotiate on. But right now I think we're going to have to see what happens with the shutdown. Do Republicans take the blame, as polls suggest they will? And then deal with the potential default, which we know will hurt everyone politically, because that's what happened last time when we almost defaulted.

MARTIN: Hurt everyone politically. Is there anyone in this situation that benefits from what's happening right now?

LIASSON: Yes, actually. It's hard to believe, but I think Ted Cruz, who's been the leader of the stop-Obamacare-at-any-cost caucus, the guy who stood on the floor for 21 hours in the Senate, he has actually come out of this a political winner. Not with the media, not with his Republican establishment colleagues who consider him an annoying grandstander, but certainly with the Tea Party base of the Republican Party, the people who make up the Republican presidential primary electorate - his stock has soared. And you can see that Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, who are the other two senators who are considering running for president in 2016, they have been standing with Cruz all along.

MARTIN: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson breaking it down for us. Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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