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Rep. Price Discusses Budget Talks


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

President Obama appeared today at a long conference table flanked by smiling lawmakers - smiling at least for the cameras. The president and the congressional leadership sat down to try to work through their differences on the budget, the deficit and the debt ceiling.

NORRIS: The president said the meeting was very constructive.

President BARACK OBAMA: People were frank. We discussed the various options available to us. Everybody reconfirmed the importance of completing our work and raising the debt limit ceiling so that the full faith and credit of the United States of America is not impaired.

NORRIS: Mr. Obama said the same group would gather Sunday for more talks. At this point, one major question revolves around revenue increases. The Republicans have repeatedly vowed to reject any tax hikes, but recently they suggested that some tax reform, which closes loopholes, might be acceptable. In a moment, we'll hear more about the talks at the White House from our correspondent Mara Liasson.

BLOCK: First, we're going to hear from representative Tom Price, Republican of Georgia and a member of the Tea Party Caucus in the House. Congressman Price, welcome to the program.

Representative TOM PRICE (Republican, Georgia): Thanks so much, Melissa. Good to be with you.

BLOCK: When you hear House Speaker John Boehner say that tax hikes are off the table, I wonder how you interpret that because, evidently, they are discussing a number of ways that would increase revenue - including eliminating things like the tax breaks on hedge fund managers, corporate jet owners, closing loopholes like that. Would that be acceptable to you?

Rep. PRICE: Well, in fact, our budget proposed decreasing the loopholes and closing many loopholes so that we broaden the base of taxation in this country and lower the rate. But please understand, the American people know that tax increases don't create a single job and that we're not in this boat right now because the Washington tax is too little. We're in this boat because Washington spends too much.

So, the American people are not interested in having a tax increase. The American people understand that Washington spends way too much money and we need to get our fiscal house in order by decreasing the size, scope and reach of Washington, as well as decreasing the spending from the federal government.

BLOCK: Is there a risk, though, when you speak of what the American people want that they will perceive, they will look at what's going on and say, Congress -Republicans in Congress - are fighting to protect the wealthiest among us, corporate jet owners and hedge fund managers, what about me? You are cutting my Medicare. You're cutting my Social Security.

Rep. PRICE: Well, that's the kind of demagoguery that you hear from the other side, but I think the people are smarter than that.

BLOCK: Congressman Price, at stake here, of course, is getting to a deal that would allow you to vote to raise the debt ceiling. To what degree do you think the idea has taken hold among your fellow House Republicans that, in fact, the debt ceiling does not need to be raised? Do you think there's still a widespread belief that it would not cause a lot of harm?

Rep. PRICE: Oh, no. I think there's a clear recognition that not solving these challenges will create significant disruption in the economy. Many folks, however, believe - and I think rightly so - that doing something that just kind of papers over the real challenges that we face causes the exact same kind of remarkable decrease in the ability of our economy to recover. So there's a balance between the two.

BLOCK: We heard economists, President Obama, the Treasury Secretary all warning that if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, it will be economic calamity, that interest rates will go up, business investment will sag, along with consumer confidence, and you'll kill jobs. Do you agree that that is the likely scenario if the debt ceiling is not lifted?

Rep. PRICE: Well, I don't know. We've never been in this situation with this kind of debt level. I don't think that the secretary of the Treasury did himself or anybody any favors by moving the date from what - that we would reach the debt ceiling from May 16th to August 2nd. All he did was give credibility to those folks that, as you mentioned, don't believe that there's any significant problem with the debt ceiling and that all these numbers are fuzzy anyway.

And then, I think the president hurts himself when he says, look, if this doesn't happen, then students won't be able to get loans, Social Security checks won't go out, we won't be able to pay the troops, when he knows that if we were to prioritize appropriately and decrease the amount of spending, for example, in the Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce, that we could continue to pay the interest on a debt, which is a relatively simple thing to do at 8 to 10 percent of the amount of money that's coming in still, and pay the troops and pay the Social Security checks.

Now, you can't do that forever, but the president ought to stop the demagoguery and sit down and talk honestly and openly with us about the real solutions.

BLOCK: Congressman Price, thanks for being with us.

Rep. PRICE: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: That was Congressman Tom Price, Republican of Georgia. He's chair of the House Republican Policy Committee and a member of the Tea Party Caucus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.