Rep. Cole Talks About Budget The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has passed a measure to extend funding of the government for three weeks. That bill is now before the Democratic-controlled Senate. On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois spoke to All Things Considered. On Thursday, Republican House member Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who sits on the House Budget Committee, speaks to Robert Siegel from Capitol Hill.

Rep. Cole Talks About Budget

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Earlier this week, it was approved by the Republican-led House. The continuing resolution will extend funding for three weeks.

SIEGEL: Yesterday we heard from Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, and today, Republican House member Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who sits on the House Budget Committee, joins us from Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program.

TOM COLE: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: Yesterday, Senator Durbin said that what the past couple of weeks have taught us is that the House Republican budget, with its $100 billion cuts, isn't going to pass in the Senate, and he said we learned at the same time the Senate Democratic alternative wouldn't pass. So isn't the obvious result going to be some compromise between the two?

COLE: But at the end of the day, it's hard to negotiate with people that don't have a common negotiating position.

SIEGEL: So you say that you want to see the Senate, which of course the Democrats would say the way the Senate operates, common is much harder to arrive at in that body than it is in the House.

COLE: Again, I recognize the difficulties they labor under, but at the end of the day, they do still have to have some sort of common position. In that sense, probably they'd be well-advised to be negotiating with leader McConnell right now.

SIEGEL: Is passing a budget more important to you than holding the Republican ranks in the House?

COLE: But the reality is I think that shows how challenging the situation we face is.

CONAN: Representative Cole, one other point but a large one: entitlements. For all this discussion, whenever we talk about the deficit, it always comes down to Medicare, Medicaid, to some extent Social Security, really driving the deficits. And yet they're somewhere off in the future. Why don't Republicans come out and say: Here's how we would change it?

COLE: I would just advise you to wait until April, and you'll see a proposal.

SIEGEL: Come April, we're going to see a Republican proposal for addressing entitlements?

COLE: I mean, from a Republican standpoint, we sort of got savaged over Social Security in the '80s. We got savaged over Medicare when we proposed some reforms in the '90s by Bill Clinton. We got savaged again when George Bush tried to deal with the Social Security issue in 2005. So there's some hesitancy on our side.

SIEGEL: But just to be clear, President Reagan didn't get savaged when he and Speaker O'Neill sat down and worked out a Social Security fix.

COLE: So we're going to have to have to some serious discussions. We've not seen any proposals by the president. He appointed a bipartisan commission to look at these issues. He didn't adopt any of their proposals in his budget.

SIEGEL: You can't balance the budget on discretionary spending.

SIEGEL: Just one last point, though. When you cite what former Speaker Pelosi said about no change to benefits, haven't Republicans also said no increases in Social Security taxes to contribute to a solution?

COLE: Those are things we think we can reach and do, and we're willing to put our ideas on the table. But I don't think it's a question of income so much as it is recognition of demographic reality and targeting benefits to people that really need them as opposed to people that don't.

SIEGEL: Congressman Cole, always good to talk with you. Thank you.

COLE: Hey, thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma.

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