STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Both competing plans shave the federal deficit only through spending cuts. Yet when President Obama addressed the nation on Monday, he urged a larger plan that included more tax revenue. That raised a question we put to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.
Why does the president seem to be advocating, this week, for a bill that doesn't exist, that's not being considered in either the Senate or the House?
Mr. BILL DALEY (Chief of Staff, White House): Well, when the president spoke to the American people, he thought it was important the American people understood what was at stake, what his position has been. Obviously, believes that there ought to be a balance to the real solutions to the deficit, there ought to be a balanced approach - including revenue.
INSKEEP: Bill Daley spoke with us from his corner office in the White House. Yesterday afternoon, as congressional leaders struggled to pass anything, our interview was delayed a few minutes. President Obama ducked into the office looking for Daley and had a talk with him. Afterward, Daley told us lawmakers understand the consequences of failure.
Mr. DALEY: I would think that more and more people, by the hour, are coming to realize the catastrophic potential negatives that would occur, if the United States Congress did not act to meet their obligations.
INSKEEP: People in Congress?
Mr. DALEY: Well, it is a vote of Congress. Congress has the obligation, not the president, to deal with the debt and the extension of the deficit.
INSKEEP: But do you think people in Congress, by the hour, as you say, are
Mr. DALEY: Oh, I think they are beginning to realize the seriousness. Not only are they hearing from their constituents, they're hearing from business interests, even though the markets have not reacted in a substantially negative way yet. One is playing with fire if they think that they can dabble with the full faith in credit of the United States of America.
INSKEEP: It's interesting that you mentioned business interests. You were seen as someone who could talk to the business community, who could explain this president to a very suspicious business community. The Chamber of Commerce, just across the park from the White House here, has put out a statement that I read as supporting speaker Boehner's plan, the plan that he is pushing in the House, which is deemed unacceptable by the how White House. What do you make of that?
Mr. DALEY: Well, I spoke with Mr. Donahue, who runs the Chamber of Commerce, and he indicated to me that he was just sending a letter to all the Congress, encouraging them to bring this to some resolution. He did not indicate to me that he was supportive of speaker Boehner's plan at all. So, I've not seen the letter, but in my discussion with him, he sure did not indicate that to me.
INSKEEP: This was a letter that seemed to be very positive about this bill, as well as about the importance of doing something.
DALEY: Well, that's unfortunate, because from most of Mr. Donahue's members, every business leader I've talked to, has said to me, what we need out of Washington is certainty. Six months is not certainty. If you're in a business, you don't plan six months you try to plan on an annual basis.
INSKEEP: When you say six months, you're referring to the Boehner bill, which would lead to another debt ceiling debate.
DALEY: Yeah. The one you're referring to that Mr. Donahue allegedly has endorsed.
INSKEEP: Um-hum. Because you mention certainty as you read the Constitution, as you read the laws and the political situation, does the president, by some means, have the power to assure certainty? To state that if Congress does not come to an agreement, the president can deal with the situation by the following means?
DALEY: The lawyers which the president has received advice from has dismissed the notion that the president could usurp the obligations of Congress and take upon himself, the ability to act when Congress doesn't, and that's the situation.
INSKEEP: Let me be sure I'm clear on this. There's the 14th Amendment route...
DALEY: Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.
INSKEEP: ...there are other routes that have been discussed...
DALEY: Such as?
INSKEEP: ...simply defying the law as President Lincoln did during the Civil War.
DALEY: I don't think the American people would find it appropriate for the president of the United States to defy the laws of the nation without their belief that that president should be impeached.
INSKEEP: So is the president powerless in this situation?
DALEY: The Congress has the power to act. They have the obligation to act. The president cannot usurp the power that's in the Congress.
INSKEEP: There's been reference by the White House spokesman to a Plan B. What is it?
DALEY: I'd like to know. I have no idea what Plan B is.
INSKEEP: There was a reference to working by Jay Carney - working on a Plan B. You have no idea, there is no Plan B?
DALEY: Oh, I think there's lots of ideas being floated around on the Hill and in conversations here, but there is no secret plan that's been agreed to by anybody. Again, this is an obligation of Congress.
INSKEEP:: One last thing. Speaker Boehner has insisted that his last offer was still on the table. It included increased revenues $800 billion over the course of a decade as well as substantial spending cuts. It wasn't exactly what the president wanted, but why not just call back the speaker and say yes to that?
DALEY: Well, I think we're still waiting for a call back from the speaker. The question isn't whether Speaker Boehner's plan, which the president and he had negotiated on for a long time and Congressman Cantor was involved with, they walked away from that deal. They walked away from their own deal. And...
INSKEEP: He's publicly said it's still on the table. Why not just accept it? See what happens?
DALEY: Well, we'd like to see the deal that the speaker's referring to. The one that we had negotiated, and the one that the speaker and the president thought was very close we probably were, in reality, about 85 percent of the way there. The speaker had not agreed to everything on his own - that you referred to as his own deal, and there were still items to be negotiated. My sense was it could have been brought to conclusion very quickly. And that's what we were attempting to do when there seemed to be radio silence from the Hill.
But I think if at some point, right now, the speaker has been very straightforward and public in saying that's off the table, and he is moving forward on a plan that he's attempting to pass. And I think until the House acts, we probably ought to wait and see exactly the position of the speaker and the Republican Party.
INSKEEP: Mr. Daley, thank you very much.
DALEY: Thank you very much.
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INSKEEP: That's White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, speaking yesterday afternoon. You can find a transcript of our full conversation at npr.org.
You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.