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Shutdown Blame Game Continues: Interview With Senators Ed Markey and John Thune

Aired October 7, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the shutdown stalemate. There's plenty of blame going around.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The president's refusal to negotiate is hurting our economy.

ANNOUNCER: Where's the strategy to get back to normal?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Pass the budget, end the government shutdown, pay our bills and prevent an economic shutdown.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, S.E. Cupp.

In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Senator Edward Markey, who blames the Republican s for the shutdown, and Republican Senator John Thune, who criticizes President Obama for not negotiating. Getting past stuck on stubborn, tonight on CROSSFIRE.


S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: And I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

Yes, it's a problem that the government has shut down. But the real problem here is the shutdown of leadership in the Republican Party. Speaker Boehner didn't want to attach Ted Cruz's crazy demands to the budget, but then he did. Speaker Boehner didn't want to shut down the government, but then he did. Now he's denying that there are enough votes in the House to reopen the government without those crazy, ideological demands on Obama care. Listen to what he said on ABC's "This Week."


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC'S "THIS WEEK": You're not prepared to schedule a clean vote on government funding right now?

BOEHNER: There are not the votes in the House to pass a clean C.R.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUTTER: Well, there are. There are enough votes. Every single Democratic member of the House, plus 24 Republican s have come out in favor of passing a clean C.R., and shut -- and ending this shutdown, but we could reopen the government today if only Speaker Boehner would reopen the business of leadership in the House. We could end this right now.

CUPP: Well, I take issue with the crazy ideological demands part, but putting that aside, all due respect...


CUPP: ... President Obama has got the bigger problem on his hands. And that's a looming default on our debts. And he knows that that is the bigger problem. And believe me, no matter how incompetent he thinks Republican s are looking over this shutdown, he knows that ultimately -- ultimately it's his credibility and his legacy on the line if we go over that default.

CUTTER: I think he knows that it's the country's future and our economy that's on the line if we default, which he's telling -- why he's telling Republican s don't bring it to the brink.

CUPP: It's a big problem for him, and he's got to figure out a way to deal with it.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, two senators: Democratic Edward Markey of Massachusetts, and Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota.

Senator Markey, to you first. I know it's fashionable to blame Republican s for this shutdown, but the House passed four bills to fund the government, and then passed more bills to fund pieces of the government to reopen. Harry Reid, who has refused to give those bills a vote, deserves some responsibility here.

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, what you're saying is that we should wait for the Republican Tea Party members of the House to pick those parts of the government that they like. They send it over to the Senate, and we should just approve those parts of the government.

So they send over a bill that says that we should fund the NIH, but we should also take away health care for the poorest children in America. And we should just vote for it. We should not have an ETA. We should not have a Department of Education. We should not have a Department of Energy, but any of the parts that the Tea Party Republican s in the Senate want to support, they should...

CUPP: But why not reopen...

MARKEY: ... have a vote in the Senate.

CUPP: Why not reopen the veterans' services? What's the loss for you?

MARKEY: Here's... CUPP: Don't you care about refunding those services?

MARKEY: You know how to reopen the Department of Veterans Affairs? Send over a bill that has reopened the government. As Stephanie just said, there are 24 Republican s in the House of Representatives who say that they will open up the whole government. You don't have to just open up the parts that the Republican s like. You could open up the whole government and negotiate responsibly, as adults...

CUTTER: Right.

MARKEY: ... over the remaining issues.

CUTTER: Let's talk about responsibility here, Senator Thune. I want to talk to you about responsibility. S.E. just made a case that Senator Reid should take responsibility. I'd like to make a case that Ted Cruz should take responsibility.

CUPP: I certainly expect you to.

CUTTER: He's really -- he's really to blame for the government shutdown. He's the one that demanded that Obama care be tied to funding the government and providing basic services to the American people.

In fact you signed a letter with him, demanding this of the majority leader: that we're not going to pass a budget unless Obama care -- defunding of over Obama care is attached. Where is the responsibility? That's what this comes down to. That's what led us to this point.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: That's one of many proposals that's been out there. Defunding, we've also -- the House has also acted on legislation that we repeal everything for a year.


THUNE: It would repeal the individual mandate. They have since blasted proposals...

CUTTER: They keep moving the goal line.

THUNE: Well, yes, but they compromised. I mean, every time...

CUTTER: They're compromising on what size of the gun they're holding.

THUNE: Well, no actually -- if you think about it, I mean, delay really makes a lot of sense. And I know this is probably hard for you, Stephanie, but the president has proposed a delay for the employer mandate. So you have the president defending big business, and we're out there saying why shouldn't middle-class Americans have the same thing?

CUTTER: Well...

THUNE: If this thing isn't working, and it's clear that it's not, you look at what happened, the pileup that they had when they tried to do the sign-ups last week. Forty-one out of 82 deadlines have been missed with Obama care, so it makes sense, in our view, to delay it.

CUTTER: The pileup that happened last week because there has been an overwhelming response. And as you know, 97, 98 percent of businesses already provide health care. So the employer mandate is not fundamental to this bill.

However, the question I have for you is you signed this letter supporting Ted Cruz's holding the government hostage. And then it comes up for a vote in the Senate, and you voted against Ted Cruz. So how does that all fall out?

THUNE: Well, like I said before, we all have -- we all agree on one thing, and that is Obama care is harmful to the American people. We're looking for all kinds of ways to get rid of it.

And defunding it was one. It didn't have the votes. We obviously have, as I said, put forward other proposals to delay it for a year, to delay the individual mandate.

And when it goes to government shutdown, you know, you've got -- you've got the House of Representatives has sent over now legislation that would open up FEMA legislation, that would open up the national parks, legislation that would open up or provide funding for veterans' programs, for the National Guard and Reserve. There are a whole series of things that are sitting at the Senate desk that could be picked up today, passed by unanimous consent. There wouldn't be a single Republican that would oppose that.


CUTTER: You look like you want to jump in here.

MARKEY: Look it -- look it, we don't need a firing squad for the Affordable Care Act. We just need a geek squad that is put out there, just to fix the computers.

What they're afraid of is, quite simply, that it's going to work. In Massachusetts we have it. Ninety-eight percent of all adults, 99 percent of all children. That's what they're afraid of, that when people learn about it, they like it.

So yesterday's "New York Times," front-page story, a very simple three-point plan that the Republican s have. No. 1, the Koch brothers and the Tea Party met earlier this year. They put together a blueprint to kill the Affordable Care Act and shut down the government.

Step two, send it to all of the Republican s in the Congress. Step three, implement the blueprint and turn out the lights on the government.

So here we are, their plan: not compromise, not a conversation, but capitulation. That's what they're looking for. And they had plenty of opportunities all year long, and the Senate Republican s blocked the Democratic budget and the Senate from going over to the Senate 19 times, so we could have a conversation.

Be responsible, keep the government open.

THUNE: But why would you, when you've delayed so many parts of this already -- the president has signed seven bills into law that have repealed parts of the Affordable Care Act, and the employer mandate was a big deal. I mean, the reason that the president delayed it is because he heard from so many employers. And so did we. All of us out there were hearing this.

Why wouldn't it make sense to give this thing a little more time, to delay it a year for everybody, let working-class Americans, middle- class Americans have the same protections from this that big businesses have gotten?

I mean, right now you've got the Democrats here in Washington D.C. and the president of the United States defending big business and Republican s advocating for middle-class Americans.

MARKEY: Well, look it. The blueprint on the front page of "The New York Times" today makes it clear: that's not the agenda. The agenda is to kill the Affordable Care Act, to shut down the government to get their way. And if it's delayed a year, any part of it, it's just to have another year where they put together a plan to kill the Affordable Care Act.

We can change parts of the Affordable Care Act during the regular legislative process. That's the responsible way to act. But to hold the entire government hostage, just as Daniel Hall (ph) shut down. It has Mount Rushmore shut down. But I can only imagine what the four presidents up there are looking down and thinking as we're shutting down the government over a one-year delay in the Affordable Care Act? It's absolutely crazy.

CUPP: That's some grandstanding on this, Senator.

THUNE: I would take issue with the fact that this is -- this is Tea- Party-inspired. I mean, there are lots of people out there. I mean, you look at the public opinion polls, it's overwhelming against Obama care. And -- and there are a lot of Democrats. You look at what the labor unions have said. The letter that the labor leaders wrote to the president described it as a disaster, that it would create nightmare scenarios...

CUTTER: But Senator...

THUNE: ... and that it would destroy the backbone of the middle -- of the middle-class America, which is...

CUTTER: Regardless... yes.

MARKEY: The Tea Party inspiration is to shut down the government. That's the Koch brother/Tea Party plan that was on the front page of "The New York Times" yesterday. No one is denying it. That's what the plan is: to shut down the government.

CUTTER: And the American people don't want the government shut down.

THUNE: Of course they don't. Neither do we.

CUTTER: Regardless of Obama care. And they don't like what Republican s are doing. But I have a question for you. So are you saying that you will never vote to reopen the government unless Obama care is attached?

THUNE: I'm -- what I'm willing to say is all these things now -- I mean, that's the wrong question. Right now the question is what can we get 218 votes for in the House and what can we get...?

CUTTER: You've got them.

THUNE: ... 60 votes for in the Senate?

CUTTER: You've got them. You've got 224.

THUNE: I don't -- I don't -- Well, I trust the speaker has got a pretty good sense of where his votes are there over there. I would trust him probably more than the White House about where the votes are.

But these things will now all collapse into one issue. We now have the debt limit. We've got the C.R. These are things that require negotiation. And we don't have that. I mean, the president said he's not going to negotiate. The Senate Democrats are saying, "We're not going to negotiate."

CUTTER: Well, but these are the budget numbers that you wanted. These are budget numbers that Republican s wanted.

MARKEY: This has always happened. It's always happened.

THUNE: These are the budget numbers that are law. It's not a concession when you follow the law. I guess unless you're the president.

CUPP: We're going to get to the debt ceiling in a bit, because it is, in some sense, a separate -- a separate topic.

But Senator Markey, there's some Democratic support to repeal the medical device tax as part of an Obama care concession to Republican s. I'm a little confused on your position, though, on this issue, because you've said in the past that you're against this device tax, but you voted against repealing it. Just explain -- explain why.

MARKEY: It's simple. Yes, I do want to repeal the medical device tax, but then you have to pay for it. So my suggestion is that we take away the tax breaks for the oil and gas industry.

CUPP: Yes.

MARKEY: The $29 billion they get, and then take the tax away from the medical devices.

CUPP: So why don't we negotiate that, then?

MARKEY: That's what I'm saying. That is what we should be doing. Otherwise, all they've done is take away $30 billion...

CUPP: That's what Republicans have been asking for.

MARKEY: No, no, no.

CUPP: Will you vote for that?

MARKEY: The $29 billion would then come out of the Affordable Care Act that would help poor children in our country.

CUPP: But just as President Obama is saying, "Let's negotiate that later," if this is the thing that can open the government right now, why not say, "Yes, let's do it and we'll figure out the details later"? That's been President Obama's mantra.

MARKEY: Can I say this? They just came up with this idea like 72 hours ago. This is not a negotiation.


CUPP: To repeal the medical device tax?

MARKEY: Yes. In terms of not having...

CUPP: Congress has been voting on it for two years.

MARKEY: You can't shut down the entire government over a 72-hour-old idea that has not been raised before now, and know that there is a way in which you can negotiate. But you don't have to keep the government closed.

CUTTER: First this was about defunding Obama care, which is really about repealing Obama care. Then it's about a delay in Obama care. Now it's about a medical device tax?

MARKEY: Right.

CUTTER: So what is this about?

CUPP: The medical device tax has been voted on.

CUTTER: This is not about end it. This is about shutting down government.

CUPP: It was voted on earlier this year.

CUTTER: But you know, Senator Markey, you had a good idea there. Repeal the medical device tax, but pay for it with taking away the tax breaks that oil and gas get. Is that something that you would be open to?

THUNE: I think we ought to find something that there is common ground on... CUTTER: Yes.

CUPP: We're trying.

THUNE: ... and the repeal of the medical device tax is one.

CUPP: Right.

THUNE: There were 34 Democrats.

CUTTER: How would you pay for it?

THUNE: And it didn't come up 72 hours ago. There were 34 Democrats on the budget this year that voted to repeal the medical device tax. Or as we like to refer to it, the pacemaker tax or the tax on insulin pumps, because that's what it is.

But there are lots of offsets that have been proposed. There's some folks in the House of representatives that have proposed an offset. There are a lot of Republicans...

CUPP: But it's very interesting that the Democratic line now is, but how would you pay for it? Yes, exactly.


MARKEY: And Republicans could have very simply proposed a cut in the medical device tax and a substitution where the revenue was going to come from and put that out on the floor. Guess what? That would probably pass.

What they're saying is "We're going to steal all the revenues from the programs to take care of the poorest children in America, to make sure that they have health care." That's not a responsible amendment. And that's the amendment that I vote against. I cannot support something that hurts poor children, poor people all across America.

CUPP: I'll just remind you -- Senator Markey, I'll just remind you that 30-plus of your colleagues...

THUNE: Now wait a minute.

CUPP: ... Democrats in the Senate, voted to repeal that medical device tax. With a pay for it.

THUNE: This is an awful tax on gross revenues. It's on top-line sales. This is -- this is gutting medical research.

CUPP: All right. We got it.

MARKEY: We can repeal it. But you have to find the $30 billion.

CUPP: We will continue this conversation. Senator Ted Cruz just laid out his new bargaining line about raising the debt limit. At least one of us sitting at this table doesn't buy all of his conditions. You'll be surprised to learn who that is. Next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUPP: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

We are seven days into the partial shutdown, but the real crisis is still on the horizon. I was with Ted Cruz on attaching Obama care to the shutdown. I am not with him on attaching it to the debt limit fight? Why? Shutdown, fake crisis. Debt limit, real crisis. Listen to his new bargaining line.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: No. 1, we should look for some significant structural plan to reduce government spending. No. 2, we should avoid new taxes. And No. 3, we should look for ways to mitigate the harms from Obama care.


CUPP: Senator Markey, I agree, Republicans should get something out of the this debt limit fight, because we cannot keep raising our debt without getting spending cuts or deficit reductions and entitlement reform. But one of the other things that they proposed is a yes or no vote on the Keystone Pipeline. I know that's something that you oppose. Would you go to default over the Keystone Pipeline?

MARKEY: You cannot negotiate with a gun at your head. It's not the way to debate our energy and environmental policy for the United States of America.

There can be a vote on the Keystone Pipeline anytime the Republicans in the Senate or the House, you know, want to make a fight over that. But attacking it to the shutdown of the government, attaching it to the full faith and credit of the United States of America, the currency of the world, by the way. The world will start to have a Maalox moment in the marketplace of nervousness. Every -- every finance minister will start to wonder about all the money that they have invested here in our country. So you just can't do that.

And again, as I'm saying to you earlier, you're never going to see the Republicans in the House send over a bill that keeps open the EPA or keeps open the Department of Energy, because they just won't talk about those issues responsibly.

So the Keystone Pipeline is in that category. We should have that discussion.

I'll tell you one other thing. The Keystone Pipeline, as it's presently constructed and planned by the Republicans in their support, does not keep the oil in the United States. I keep making an amendment to say all the oil must stay in the United States, and almost every single Republican votes no, that it shouldn't keep -- stay in the United States.

So what's the point of running all the environment risks, having the oil go down to Port Arthur, Texas, and then having it sent out of our country? Where is the national security? Where is the energy? Where is the economic benefit for our country? And both TransCanada and all of the energy companies oppose keeping it in our country.

CUTTER: Senator.

THUNE: Well, there are four environmental impact studies that have been down now, all of which have concluded it would be minimal impact to the environment.

But more -- more importantly, too, I mean, just as importantly it's about jobs. It's about the economy. I mean, this is -- energy is a competitive advantage to us against our global competitors.

It's also something that, according to the president's own State Department, would create 42,000 jobs, construction jobs, as soon as they decide to go forward with it. So those are things that are good for the economy.

When we think about this debt-limit discussion, of the 53 times that the debt limit's been raised since 1978, 27 times something has been attached to it. Policy issues, most cases dealing with deficit reduction. All the big budget deals were done that way.

1985, Graham-Rudman-Hollings. You had a Democrat House, a Republican Senate and a Republican president, but that was done in association with the debt limit.

We ought to do things that are good for reforming our spending, getting our country on a better fiscal trajectory and growing jobs and the economy. And Keystone Pipeline is one of those things on that list. But to say, "I'm not going to negotiate," I mean, it defies history. Twenty-seven times out of the 53 there's been something attached to it.

CUPP: The president is acting like this is some novel request.

MARKEY: I just want to say very briefly, we export young men and women over to the Middle East to protect those ships that bring oil into our country. I don't think it's right for us to be exporting oil out of the United States while we have young men and women over in the Middle East. That oil should stay here, and the Republican Party and the American Petroleum Institute, they oppose keeping the oil here. And that is just plain wrong.

CUTTER: And we certainly should not be bringing the economy to the brink just to get a pipeline established. And so Senator Thune, I want to bring up something...

THUNE: It's not just about a pipeline, by the way.

CUTTER: In full disclosure, in the interests of being transparent here, I do a little work on opposing the Keystone Pipeline, so I'm with you, Senator Markey.

Senator Thune, in 2011, when you were trying to convince your House and Senate Republicans to not bring the economy to the brink, to go ahead and pass this debt limit, here's what you said. You said, "You know, there's too much risk associated with that. And the focus here needs to be on economic security of Americans and not politics.:

How is today any different when Republicans and their demands for an increase on the debt limit, which is basically just paying the bills that they've already incurred, a list of political demands, including Keystone, medical device tax, all of these things that are their political wish list. How is this not about politics?

THUNE: Well, it's about -- it's about the economy. It's about jobs. About are we going to do something that's going to secure a better future for our children and grandchildren?

You know, the president is asking for what would be the equivalent of a trillion dollar increase in our debt limit, which by the way, is so we can incur a lot of obligations and liabilities in the future. So, you know, the bills are going to get paid. The debt holders are going to get paid.

The important thing, though, is when you do a debt limit increase, you take a look at what's causing the debt and try and do something about it. And we have an opportunity here to put in place some spending reforms, to grow the economy at a faster rate, which will help us deal with the deficits and the debts that we're running right now.

But to your point, Stephanie, if you look at past statements, the president in 2006 said that raising -- voting to raise the debt limit would be a failure of leadership. He called it unpatriotic. And now he's...

CUTTER: But he didn't hold -- he didn't hold the debt limit hostage.

THUNE: ... "I want a clean debt limit. I don't want any discussions. Any discussions."

CUPP: Now, but to Senator Markey -- I mean, to Senator Thune's point, Senator Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling in 2006. Vice President Joe Biden voted three times against raising the debt ceiling. Harry Reid twice. Nancy Pelosi once in 2004.

I'm sure I don't have to tell you, but you voted against bills that would have raised the debt ceiling in 2005, four, three, two, and 1997. Why is now the first time anyone's ever wanted to debate raising the debt ceiling?

MARKEY: We just went through this in 2011. We already saw the stock market drop 2,000 points. We already saw markets tremble across the entire planet. We just did it. We understand what the consequences are.

CUPP: Why are consequences today different than they were with the votes you took not to raise the debt ceiling?

MARKEY: We have just learned this lesson in 2011. Both Democrats and Republicans who might have had any views in the '80s or the '90s or the 2000s, we just went through it. You don't want to repeat history. I agree with you we should not attach anything to the debt ceiling. It would be irresponsible. It would be...

CUPP: No, that's not what I say. We don't want to default.

MARKEY: We don't want to default.

CUPP: We should have some spending cuts and deficit reduction.

MARKEY: But we cannot have a default...

CUPP: ... on the debt ceiling. And that's been done more than 20 times.

CUTTER: But there was not a threat. There was never a threat of default.

THUNE: By the way, of those 20 times, more often when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress than not. I mean, the huge majority of this has been on when Democrats had control of Congress.

This is a -- there is history to this. There is precedent to this. In all the big budget deals going back to 1995, it came out - it came as a result of being done in association with the Democrats.

CUTTER: Because Democrats were doing that responsibly. They weren't threatening...


CUTTER: But I do want to come back to something that you said, Senator Thune. You said that this is about incurring future spending. We will still be able to pay our bills. So are you saying that not increasing the debt limit, risking default in our debt, is not catastrophic?

THUNE: No, I'm saying it's -- of course, I'm saying we need to raise the debt limit. Of course we need to pay our bills. Of course we want to make sure that we don't default. But we ought to do something about the debt. It is -- it's like increasing the amount that you can charge on your credit card. It's so that we can borrow money in the future to pay our bills. But saying that we haven't -- we can't pay our...

CUTTER: Bills -- bills that we've already incurred. Bills that we've already incurred.

THUNE: It's future borrowing authority.

CUTTER: We've already racked this stuff up.

THUNE: It's future borrowing authority.

CUTTER: So one last question for you. There's reports that Senator Reid may bring up a clean debt limit bill on the Senate this week. Are you saying that you're going to vote against that?

THUNE: I don't think it will pass in the Senate. CUTTER: Are you going to vote against it?

THUNE: Well, I'm going to -- I'll look at what it brings up. But I don't...

CUTTER: A clean debt limit.

THUNE: I want to see us have a discussion and debate about what we're going to do to reduce the debt in association with raising the debt limit.

And by the way, the American people agree with that by a 2-1 margin.

And the other thing I want to point out is this is the kind of thing that requires engagement by the president. And when the president says, "I am not going to negotiate," the Senate Democrats say, "I'm not going to negotiate," now if it's so hard for him to pick up the phone...

CUPP: We're going to have to go to break.

THUNE: ... to call John Boehner, I'd be happy to slip a note to the speaker from the president if it's necessary.

MARKEY: The president is ready to negotiate, just not at the cost of our entire economy being put at risk.

CUTTER: Right.

MARKEY: He is saying please sit down. We'll talk about oil company subsidies...

CUPP: Do what I ask first, and then we'll talk about...


MARKEY: You can't do it with a gun to your head.

CUTTER: We've got to go. We've got to go.

MARKEY: The price will be paid by the American people.

CUTTER: Thanks to senators John Thune and Edward Markey. Thanks for missing the start of the Red Sox game. Next, we...

MARKEY: No great loss (ph).

CUTTER: I hear you. Next, we "Ceasefire" and see if there's anything we can agree on.

And also, we want you to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. "Should government workers get the pay -- get paid for the days that they were furloughed?" Tweet yes or no to #CROSSFIRE. We'll have the results after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CUTTER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, we've been debating the shutdown and increasing the debt limit. Now let's call a "Ceasefire."

I think we can both agree that nobody is winning, and everybody's taking a hit.

Look at this brand-new CNN poll: 63 percent of you are angry at the Republicans because of the shutdown; 57 percent are angry at the Democrats; and 53 percent are angry at the president.

CUPP: Yes, I think it's clear -- I mean, I know that in certain circles, I'm sure there are circles in the White House where they're saying, "We're winning." And we heard Rand Paul say, "We're winning this." I think they're all delusional.

CUTTER: And Republicans saying they've never been so happy.

CUPP: Well, everyone is losing here. No one is looking good.

CUTTER: I agree. Nobody comes out well in a government shuts down.

CUPP: Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question: "Should government workers get paid for the days that they were furloughed?" Right now 61 percent of you say yes; 39 percent say no.

CUTTER: The debate continues online at as well as Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.