Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar On Monday's Hill Negotiations

Melissa Block spoke with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., about Senate negotiations on the debt ceiling and partial federal government shutdown.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

So that's the view from the White House and we go, now, to the Senate. I'm joined by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Welcome to the program.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thanks, Melissa. It's great to be on.

BLOCK: And Senator, from where you sit, are you confident that you are heading toward a deal, at least on the Senate side?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, this is the most optimistic day we've had in awhile. Of course, it's all relative. But it's been very productive in terms of, first of all, the group that Susan Collins - Sen. Susan Collins has been leading with a number of us - six Democrats, six Republicans been involved, talking about some potential compromises; has continued to meet into the morning. And then the good news today was that Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell, who have crafted agreements and deals in the past, when we have faced a financial crisis, have met numerous times today, taking some of the elements of our suggestions and then - I'm sure - adding some of their own; and really focusing on some of the issues that Scott raised about opening the government again, and then not defaulting on our bills, and paying our bills, and not having what happened back in 2011 - when the Dow Jones plummeted 2,000 points in just a few weeks.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about the timetable. We heard from Scott Horsley there that the reported deal on the table would extend borrowing authority into February, and the government would be funded until mid-January. Is that your understanding of where things are right now?

KLOBUCHAR: Again, I don't - it's hard enough to negotiate around this place...

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

KLOBUCHAR: ...without doing it on the radio, despite - I'm sure - the discreetness of all your listeners. But there are a number of dates floating out there. My preference is to have it be as long as possible, in terms of the borrowing limit, because we just don't want to have a country that lurches from one financial crisis to the next; certainly, something the business community would support. The second thing is on the spending side of it, the government spending side, what we call the continued resolution. There's some momentum now, as ugly as it all seems, to get some kind of negotiations going.

We have a Senate-passed budget. The House has a House-passed budget. They are very different. But this is an opportunity for us to come together, and that's one of the little things that doesn't get talked about a lot. In the context of the shutdown, this could be seen as an opportunity. And that's why we're pushing for some kind of date in December or January, which would create some momentum to get this done so we could, potentially, replace some of those sequestration cuts for medical research and, you know, FBI agents with some other things. And that's what we want to work on.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about those spending cuts, the sequestration cuts that were supposed to kick in in mid-January across the board. Republicans have said they want no changes in those. They say they're as much the law of the land as the health care law. So how do you get past that?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, the way you get past that is - I think, they've been very clear. They don't want to negotiate on those numbers right now, in terms of changing them next year. But once you put those two budgets into a regular conference committee, you could negotiate different things. You could negotiate additional revenue. You could make reforms to government. You could make changes that would help so you wouldn't have this hammer of the sequestration cuts. And there are clearly, some Republicans who have talked about the problems with the sequestration - from Sen. McCain on down - who would like to see some changes to that. And this would give us the opportunity to do that.

BLOCK: What about in terms of keeping liberal Democrats engaged in this, and keeping them happy? Two years ago, in talks over the debt ceiling, liberal Democrats said they would not balance the budget on the backs of Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries. Is that where we're headed? And what do you about that?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think that first of all, there are some things we can do to reform that wouldn't be balancing it on the backs of seniors; things like looking at the cap, which is now set at about $115,000 for Social Security - you could - for taxes. You could have it hit again at 250,000 and above, or go on up from there. That's one example. Another example would be negotiation of prices under Medicare Part D for pharmaceuticals. That could bring in over $200 billion in 10 years. So I think there are a number of things that could be on the table.

Obviously, Republicans will have different ones. Delivery system reform, Minnesota is known for that - the Mayo Clinic; high-quality, low-cost care - you could still do some things there that could save some money. And that's what the president was talking about at the end of last year. So I think those are things - there's a mix of things that could be put together that could be very positive, actually, for keeping those systems solvent and also, for replacing some of the sequestration cuts.

And don't forget the revenue. Some of the subsidies, some of the changes that could be made, that could make a difference in terms of reversing some of these cuts but still, as we know, keeping some of them in place but being much more reasonable about which cuts we make.

BLOCK: OK. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, thanks so much.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you. A good day - and we hope a better one tomorrow.

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