NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Senate Democrat's View Of The Debt Ceiling


Republicans drive the budget debate in the House; Democrats, of course, have a majority in the Senate. For more, we're joined by Democratic Senator Michael Bennett of Colorado.

Mr. Bennett, thanks for being with us.

Senator MICHAEL BENNETT (Democrat, Colorado): Its good to be with you. Thanks.

SIMON: Representative Huizenga says he isn't convinced that refusing to raise the debt ceiling will have quite the catastrophic consequences that Sec. Geithner has suggested. Says he's talked to people in the New York financial community who say the same things. What do you feel?

Sen. BENNETT: Well, I guess I'd say two things about that. One is that it's very clear to me that people in the financial community, if they actually believe that the debt ceiling was not going to be lifted would react very badly and our economy would have a tremendous downturn. And that's from people in the financial community in New York, many of whom I've worked with over many years in the private sector. What I worry about is that we're going to get to a point where either by accident or on purpose we actually do find ourselves failing to raise the debt ceiling and therefore, defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States, which would be I think a disaster.

Raising the debt ceiling or not raising the debt ceiling is not like cutting up your credit card. I had somebody in Colorado the other day say, my neighbors are having to readjust because the economic reality. Washington needs to readjust because of the economic reality. And I said I totally agree with that. But failing to raise the debt ceiling is like having your neighbors say I'm not paying this months cable bill, even though I owe them money. Or I'm not paying my mortgage, even though I owe them the money. We should raise the debt ceiling. We also need a comprehensive plan that addresses the horrific deficit and debt that are on this country and threatening our kids future.

SIMON: Of course, as we noted, Moodys has said it might downgrade the nations AAA bond rating if Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling. Do you regard this as a serious admonition as opposed to a threat? And does it help focus the mind?

Sen. BENNETT: I hope that it helps focus the mind. And, you know, from Colorado's perspective, and it's a complicated state - where a third Democratic, a third Republican, a third Independent - I think people are pretty clear about what they want, which is they'd like the problem materially addressed. They want to know that were all in it together. They want it to be bipartisan because they don't have a lot of confidence in either partys own positions on this. And I'd add a fourth corollary to that, which is that we need to make sure the capital markets know that the paper that they've bought and that we have borrowed from is not at risk.

You know, it's too bad that Washington can't respond to that sort of common sense or hasn't been able to. I do think when you start to see things like Moodys threatening to lower our rating it should sharpen the mind and we ought to do a deal along the lines of what the debt and deficit commission said.

SIMON: So what happened to the Gang of Six thats now the Gang of Five, because Senator Tom Coburn left the group? This was a group that you were hoping could broker some kind of compromise.

Sen. BENNETT: Yeah. And one of the reasons I was so supportive of it was, it was three Democrats and three Republicans trying to work together in a hyper-partisan environment to deliver some legislation that reflected the basic outlines that were in the debt and deficit commission report, which recommended that we find a way to take out about $4.5 trillion over 10 years.

I'm not sure what happened with one of the senators that pulled out but I do know they've done a lot of good work and my hope is that in the coming days we can all see the benefit of that work and be able to make some choices. A plan is better than no plan. And right now unfortunately, we have no plan.

SIMON: I gather Senate Democrats won't be producing their own budget plan. Is that your understanding too?

Sen. BENNETT: Thats my understanding.

SIMON: And why?

Sen. BENNETT: I think it's the reflection of the practical reality that the negotiation is really happening right now between the vice president on behalf of the president and the speaker of the House on behalf of the caucus there. I do think the Senate can provide, and I hope it's the work of the Gang of Six, but it might be others, can provide some thoughts about how to move this forward. We've got a lot of important business to attend to, even beyond this if we're not going to be the first generation of Americans to leave less opportunity not more to our kids.

SIMON: Michael Bennett, Democratic senator from Colorado. Thanks so much for being with us, Senator.

Sen. BENNETT: Thanks for having me, Scott. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.