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Last-ditch negotiations on a deal to avert a default on the national debt and reopen the government are underway as lawmakers hash out differences and attempt to reach agreement. As the Senate nears a deal, Republican leaders in the House are countering with their own proposal. President Obama is weighing in, rejecting any further moves to undermine the health care law by House Republicans. Kojo chats with Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Steny Hoyer Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Md); Minority Whip
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MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University, in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world.
MR. KOJO NNAMDILater in the broadcast, he's an investigative lawyer who's been involved in a half a century of high-profile cases from Watergate to Princess Diana's death. But first, it's down to the wire with just days to go before the nation runs out of money to pay its bills and risks defaulting on its debt. The Senate seemed to be near a deal to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government through early next year, but in a move that could delay a final deal, House Republican leaders were looking to counter with their own proposal.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut House Speaker John Boehner may be unable to muster agreement in his own ranks. Joining us now to discuss this is Congressman Steny Hoyer. He is the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat representing Maryland's 5th Congressional District. Congressman Hoyer, thank you so much for joining us.
REP. STENY HOYERGlad to be with you. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd I guess given at the rate things have been going this morning, the appropriate question from me to you I guess is -- to help us unscramble this -- what the heck is currently going on?
HOYERWell, I would like to say that I can unscramble it for you, but the fact of the matter is that we had a hard-working group in the Senate. They had broached an agreement that I think the president was willing to support. I think we were willing to support here, the outlines that we knew. It wasn't complete and what happened was apparently last night or this morning, the Republican House members decide to put a monkey wrench in the works. And there was a proposal for an alternative, which I think we could not have supported. And what happened in the Republican conference this morning apparently was a great disagreement.
HOYERWhich has been pretty usual for them. And the problem, of course, is, as you pointed out earlier, we're just a couple of days away from putting the full faith and credit of the United States at risk. And we've had the government now shut down for 15 days, costing us probably, consequentially, in terms of the economy and employees and everything, about $120 million a day. It makes no sense. We ought to be moving on the agreement that was talked about over the last 24, 48 hours. We ought to be opening up the government immediately, making sure that the U.S. can pay its bills. And then sitting down, as has been suggested, and we've been asking for five or six months, sitting down at a conference table to iron out disagreements and getting this country on a long term, fiscally sustainable path.
NNAMDIWhat's the biggest obstacle right now, Congressman Hoyer, to a deal, in your opinion?
HOYERWell, it's my understanding that a deal has not been reached in the Senate. And my understanding is this -- I don't have any confirmation from the Republican side of the aisle in the Senate -- that because of the Republican disarray in the House of Representative, the Senate negotiators have somewhat backed off the negotiations and are not finalizing a deal, as you point out, that would get the government open, would make sure we are able to pay our bills and not put our credit at risk. That's unfortunate that the Republicans in the House have once again, gummed up the works, if you will.
HOYERSo I'm very hopeful that the Senate will proceed, come to agreement, pass a bill, send it to us and I believe that if they do, they will have the majority of votes in the House of Representatives to pass and open up the government and to take our credit out of risk. But we'll see. We haven't had any word from the House leadership, exactly what they plan to do now.
NNAMDIOur guest is Congressman Steny Hoyer. He's the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat representing Maryland's 5th Congressional District. Congressman Hoyer, details aren't clear yet, but President Obama is rejecting any further attempts to ransom the healthcare law in this deal. He plans to meet with House Democrats later today. Is that meeting still scheduled?
HOYERIt still is. We're going down to the White House this afternoon and we'll be talking about the status of negotiations that the Senate is having. And the status of what he believes he can support. One of the proposals is to not allow the administration to make sure that we don't default in the event that the debt limit is extended. That's unacceptable to the president. It's unacceptable to us. But I want to make it clear that I believe that we have very close to 200 votes on the House floor in Democrats, so that we would only need maybe 20 or 30 Republicans in order to get the government open and making sure that we pay our bills.
HOYERYou know, Kojo, I'm sure you understand that the failure to pay our bills is going to spike interest, undermine 401 (K) values, delay critical loans for small businesses being made. NIH is not able to pursue critical health research. A lot of talk about our national parks being closed down, but we've got Head Start children that don't have seats. So there are a lot of consequences above and beyond the jargon of Washington that real people are going to be very badly hurt by this continued shut down of government and by the credit risk that we're taking. It's very irresponsible. And I think there are a number of Senators trying to be responsible on both sides of the aisle to get us to an agreement and I would hope the House would be able to support that.
NNAMDIFinal question, Congressman Hoyer, it is speculative, but in your position it would be informed speculation, do you think that the hold at this point, the confusion, the apparent confusion among House Republicans and Senate Republicans has to do with the Affordable Care Act?
HOYERI think that's part of it, certainly, because they have expressed that the only way they would support keeping government open, which is amazing, is if we repealed or substantially delayed the Affordable Care Act. We had an election in November of 2012. The American people had an opportunity to make a judgment and they made a judgment. And nobody believes, I think, that any fair-minded person -- that president of the United States, who ran on the Affordable Care Act and its importance to making sure that Americans have access to healthcare coverage, nobody believes he's going to sign a bill like that. And frankly, we're not going to vote for a bill like that. And the Senate's not going to pass it.
HOYERBut to hold hostage the very credit of the United States, the reputation of the United States around the world and the people's government is simply irrational and I think from a voter's standpoint, unforgivable. Hopefully, some people will come to their senses and understand that that policy is a bad one for our country and for our people.
NNAMDICongressman Hoyer, thank you for joining us.
HOYERYou bet. Thanks a lot.
NNAMDISteny Hoyer is the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat representing Maryland's 5th Congressional District. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, he's an investigative lawyer who's been involved in a half a century of high-profile cases, from Watergate to Princess Diana's death. But first, of course, this is the fourth day of our fall membership campaign, so you'll be hearing a little bit about that. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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