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Debt Ceiling Deal Depends On U.S. Senate


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. The prospects for a deal to avoid default and reopen the government now depend on the U.S. Senate, whose members include Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, who's on the line. Senator, welcome back to the program.

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. So let's remember, last night Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid put out a statement saying he's optimistic, and the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell in the Senate, also says he's working on an agreement. Do you believe the Senate will deliver?

CHAMBLISS: Well, they both issued similar statements at the end of last week and over the weekend and it didn't come together. So I hope this time that it does, Steve. Because it's high time we quit this business of shutting down the government. There are too many things that are today impacting the lives of Americans, and just around the corner - i.e., the end of the month and the first of next month we're looking at veterans' benefits and Social Security checks and whatnot being impacted by the shutdown. And that means we're going to have a sure enough serious impact on people's lives. So let's hope so, and I think folks on both sides of the aisle in the Senate are ready to get this done.

INSKEEP: Well, let's look at the deal, at least as it's been described. I know the legislation hasn't been passed out but it's described as reopening the government, raising the debt ceiling until early next year. Republicans get a concession on Obamacare. There would be additional income verification for people getting subsidies. Democrats get some minor concession. Is that something that's likely to get your vote if that's the form it takes?

CHAMBLISS: I'm going to look at what the details are. The income verification is actually part of the law now, but this is supposed to tighten it up even more, and certainly that's key. But you know, we're not talking about a long-term solution, Steve. That's going to impact the decision making on the part of a lot of us.

We're talking about temporarily reopening the government by extending a CR, a continuing resolution, and temporarily raising the debt ceiling only for about four months here. So there's less demand in the minds of those of us who have to cast a vote if it's a temporary situation versus a permanent situation.

INSKEEP: Do you think it's important, Senator, to get a big bipartisan vote in the Senate for whatever you send over to the House, where there has been a little bit of chaos?

CHAMBLISS: Well, that's always the goal we have, because you want all legislation to have the support of both sides of the aisle. That usually means obviously it's a pretty good piece of legislation. Here I think it's more important than ever. Speaker Boehner is having lots of problems on the House side corralling his troops over there. And it's not new, but it's kind of imploded with this CR debt ceiling issue that we've been working on. So...

INSKEEP: Would you urge him, Senator, to use Democratic votes if he possibly can? He's been trying to pass a deal with only Republican votes.

CHAMBLISS: Yeah, I think he's going to have to have Democratic votes. In fact, he could even be in a situation now because of the timeline we're working on where it takes an overwhelming vote of Democrats and some Republicans to get to 218, but I think that's exactly the scenario that his folks have left him in.

INSKEEP: Now, is there a layer to this crisis that we don't see, Senator Chambliss? For example, are people talking privately with Speaker Boehner from the Senate side to the House side?

CHAMBLISS: They are. John is one of my dearest friends. I talk to him regularly anyway, but particularly on this issue we've been conversing regularly, and others have. He talks to Senator McConnell regularly, and I know other members of the Senate have been engaged in conversation with not just the speaker but rank and file House members, trying to encourage them to continue to dialogue, continue to work on it.

Because this doesn't do anybody any good, these types of confrontations.

INSKEEP: We've just got about - forgive me, Senator, we've just got about 30, 40 seconds here...


INSKEEP: But I want to ask about another relationship here. Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee in the Senate have objected to reopening the government unless Obamacare is also defunded. They didn't show up for a Republican lunch, I'm told, according to Politico, on Tuesday. Have you heard from them and do you think they will try to talk this out, which could take us well past the deadline, days past the deadline under Senate procedures?

CHAMBLISS: Mike and Ted were not at lunch yesterday, but I don't think that is any indication of any issue being involved there. Their stated purpose of shutting down the government early was to defund Obamacare and those of us who've been around a while kept saying, guys, that's not going to happen. It can't happen.

I think they've come to the realization now that it's not going to happen and I think in all good conscience they are trying to figure out what it is they would like to have now to see the government reopened and the debt ceiling raised. But they're probably looking at the next round rather than this round. It's just not going to happen now.

INSKEEP: Senator Chambliss, thanks as always.

CHAMBLISS: OK. Steve, always good to be with you.

INSKEEP: Saxby Chambliss is a Republican senator from Georgia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.