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CROSSFIRE

Is Congress Nearing a Deal?

Aired October 10, 2013 - 18:28   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Newt Gingrich on the right.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: And I'm Van Jones on the left.

We begin tonight with some breaking news. Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans just finished meeting with President Obama this evening, but they left without saying anything to the reporters when they left the White House.

Right now they are meeting in Speaker Boehner's office. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tells CNN it was a useful meeting. Not sure what that means.

All day long we've got hearing of talk of some kind of a short- term deal that would raise the debt limit. But by all accounts -- thank goodness -- it won't include any changes to Obama care. The question is, is that going to fly with some of the most ardent opponents of the president's health-care reform?

GINGRICH: Well, look, I think no one knows yet what's happening. And my hunch is that the White House meeting was on the debt ceiling, not on the continuing resolution.

JONES: Yes.

GINGRICH: And I think we'll have to wait and see how this sorts itself out. But that's my guess.

GINGRICH: Well, we've got some people here that can help us do that, I imagine. So...

GINGRICH: Yes. We are very lucky. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in the CROSSFIRE tonight, along with Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. We are delighted to have both of you with us.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: We're glad to be here.

JONES: Glad to have you here. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

We're going to start -- start with you. Well, you know, you kind of got us into this whole situation. You're the guy. You had this great plan, you're going to take Obama care out. This plan seems to have come up short.

Now the conversation seems to have moved on, left you behind, left Obama care behind. Paul Ryan puts out this "Wall Street Journal" op-ed, doesn't include Obama care. Now we're going to lift the debt ceiling without Obama care being touched, possibly.

Would you support Paul Ryan moving forward to get this debt ceiling thing resolved without your Obama care obsession in there?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Well, look, Van, you're trying hard. I've got to give you credit for that. And an awful lot of Washington would like to change the subject. An awful lot of Washington would like to stop focusing on Obama care.

But you know who hasn't stopped focusing on Obama care, is the American people. The reason the House of Representatives has stood strong on Obama care is that millions of Americans rose up and said, "Look, this thing isn't working. This thing is killing jobs. It is taking away people's health care. It is not working." And that's what we need to stay focused on.

JONES: Well, you were kind of a lone voice on that. Now, mostly -- it's almost kind of delusional sounding. Your entire party is now moving on. Your entire party is saying that the debt ceiling catastrophe that we're on the verge of doing needs to be resolved.

Now you said -- and you're on record saying you don't even want to deal with the debt ceiling collapse without making Obama care a part of that. Are you still on that position?

Paul Ryan says, "Listen, let's deal with the debt ceiling." Are you still saying we can't even deal with the debt ceiling until we deal with your Obama care obsession?

CRUZ: Look, Van, the whole country understands we have way too much debt. Under President Obama, the debt has gone from roughly $10 trillion to nearly $17 trillion, larger than our whole economy. And I think we need to do structural reforms to get our spending under control.

But at the same time you've got to fight one thing at a time. You can't fight everything at once. We are in the middle of an epic movement. Millions of Americans have risen up and said they want relief from Obama care. So Washington -- listen, politicians in both parties in Washington have not been listening to the American people, but over 2 million Americans signed a national petition at dontfundit.com, because Obama care isn't working.

GINGRICH: Let me ask it from a different angle. The Republicans in the House have now put on the table a six-week extension of the debt ceiling, partially in response, I suspect, to Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew saying this would be a disaster next week.

From your perspective...

WHITEHOUSE: Yes. And Ronald Reagan and every CEO and... GINGRICH: But from your standpoint, you were down at the White House today with the other Senate Democrats. Could you vote for a clean six-week extension to move the ceiling -- to move the debt ceiling down the road? Just to make sure we don't go to default?

WHITEHOUSE: I think what we want to see is the government put back to work, as well. And I think there's support for that in the Senate. That way we get off of hostage negotiations that are going on right now. We get to regular negotiations.

Everybody I know in Rhode Island knows the difference between negotiating and negotiating while holding hostages. And I understand why the Republican Party wants the leverage of holding a government shutdown and the economy hostage, but I really think it's important that we do our level best to both take away the threat of the debt limit and reopen the government. And then everything is on the table. Of course it is, but we want to negotiate like Americans do and not with...

GINGRICH: Let me just point out.

WHITEHOUSE: ... guns to each other's heads.

GINGRICH: Let me just point out, as a former speaker of the House, the president has a veto pen. Senator Reid can block virtually everything in the Senate. So in terms of hostage taking, I think from a Republican perspective, there's a pretty fair amount of hostage- taking from the Democratic side.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, those are parliamentary maneuvers in the back and forth. This is different. This is hundreds of thousands of federal employees who are literally out of work right now. This is small businesses near parks that are losing their season, the end of their summer season. This is a threat to the entire, probably, world economy, if we don't get the debt limit right. This is negotiating with hostages with a very real threat to shoot them, and very real damage to the country if we do. And I think that that's an important difference in all this.

We've got to recognize, and I think Americans recognize there's a difference between negotiating...

JONES: I know you disagree with that.

WHITEHOUSE: ... and negotiating with hostages.

CRUZ: Sheldon, let me ask you a question. I mean, are there bipartisan areas we can agree? The Senate in the midst of this battle had a brief moment of bipartisan cooperation where we -- let me finish the question, where we unanimously passed a bill that the House had passed to fund the men and women of our military. So why was it that you voted to fund the men and women of the military?

WHITEHOUSE: I think, while people are in service overseas and putting their lives on the line for our country, we owe them a special obligation. I don't think... CRUZ: And I agree with you.

WHITEHOUSE: ... that doing that means that -- it doesn't change the underlying equation. The underlying equation is that you are insisting on not just good-faith negotiations, but negotiations with hostages. And your willingness to let the occasional hostage out while holding all the other hostages doesn't change that fundamental principle. And I think that's fundamentally wrong, and it's fundamentally un-American. And it's fundamentally different than what...

CRUZ: But Sheldon, the House has passed 14 bills to fund vital government priorities. All 14 of them are sitting on Harry Reid's desk. He won't allow the Senate to vote. So let me ask you a question...

WHITEHOUSE: I'll concede...

CRUZ: Let me just ask you a question, which is if you voted to fund the men and women in the active military, why are Democrats blocking funding the V.A.? Do our veterans not deserve the same treatment that our active-military do?

WHITEHOUSE: I'll concede that -- that this is a -- the active military was a good thing to pay for. And...

CRUZ: But why not the veterans?

WHITEHOUSE: No matter how many individual hostages you decide to let go, there will still be others. And it doesn't change your underlying dynamic, which is to insist on holding hostages during a negotiation. And whether it's -- you let the V.A. go, fine. That's great. But then you still have other people who are getting essential services from government, and they all continue to suffer.

There is no need to create an artificial crisis and to harm all these people in the country if you really want good-faith negotiations.

CRUZ: Look, I agree...

WHITEHOUSE: If what you want is negotiations with a gun to the president's head, to force unpopular choices on the American public, that's a different situation.

CRUZ: Why is it a hostage negotiation? Why is it a hostage negotiation to have a straight-up vote, on funding the V.A.? The bill the House passed doesn't mention Obama care. It is a clean C.R. on the V.A. It's a binary choice: fund the V.A., yes or no. Can't we say, listen -- listen, even if we disagree on some issues, we can all come together and say our vets should be above politics.

WHITEHOUSE: Because when you have held virtually the entire federal government hostage, when you say, "Let's do a vote just to let the V.A. out, that's also a vote...

CRUZ: There are 14 of them.

WHITEHOUSE: ... to continue to hold all of the other agencies that weren't in those bills hostage. It's still a hostage situation.

GINGRICH: Can I say a point, one minor point? This is the 18th time since 1976 that the Congress and the president have been at an impasse and we've had -- we've shut the government down. This is not like this is a brand-new, suddenly discovered thing. We've done this 18 times. This is the 18th time.

WHITEHOUSE: And it's been rotten every time.

GINGRICH: Well, but often it's the only way the Congress can get the president's attention. These don't happen by accident.

WHITEHOUSE: You have the president's attention. My gosh, he is extraordinarily concerned about the harm that the shutdown is causing to people across this country right now. And he's extraordinarily concerned about the threat to our currency and our credit.

GINGRICH: Not enough -- not enough to negotiate.

WHITEHOUSE: Negotiate or negotiate with hostages? There's an important distinction that everybody understands.

GINGRICH: We've done this 17 other times.

JONES: Let's just move -- let's move on. I think -- I think we've heard this before. I think we understand where you guys are coming from. There's some stuff that's -- are new developments. One of the new developments is you talk about what's popular, what's not popular.

One thing that's incredibly unpopular right now is the Republican Party. Under your leadership -- you came to this town. Within a year, you've become the most prominent Republican in this town. And we now have polling data that shows the Republican Party is less popular than it's ever been in the history of the party, which is shocking.

I wonder if you now -- and this is -- we're all friends here. We can talk. Do you feel like you owe your party an apology? Listen, you had people who believed in you. They believed that you were going to somehow be able to defund Obama care. They believed that the strategy of shutdown might have a chance. They followed you into a ditch.

And now, there's obviously no chance that Obama care is going to be defunded, and we're on the brink of a horrific default. Do you think that, in the reflection of your own heart, you might say, "You know what? I'm the new kid here. I think I owe you guys an apology"?

CRUZ: You know, Van, I know you desperately want to change the topic from Obama care. And it is striking that -- hold on, let me answer your question.

JONES: Default? But the default, the destruction of the world economy?

CRUZ: Van, let me answer -- let me answer your question.

Listen, Democrats in this town do not want to discuss Obama care. Why? Because it isn't working.

We saw this week President Obama's approval ratings are at 37 percent, the lowest it has ever been. The "Wall Street Journal" poll just came out, and Democrats have the lowest support among the middle class they've had in 40 years of polls. Why is it? Why is it? And it's for two reasons.

No. 1, because House Republicans are working to fund vital government priorities. They passed 14 bills to do it, and President Obama and the Democrats refuse to negotiate.

And No. 2, it is because House Republicans are listening to the millions of Americans who are losing their jobs, who are being pushed into part-time work, who are facing skyrocketing health care...

JONES: Do you agree -- do you agree with this analysis, Senator Whitehouse?

WHITEHOUSE: The notion that Obama care is a failure, I think, is a product of right-wing histrionics. I went into our insurance exchange in Rhode Island when I was home over the weekend. There was a family at the front desk. They had been in earlier to get waited on and to get served. And they were so happy with the way they were treated, that they were now coming back. They brought in two big tubs of Dunkin' Donuts coffee and stacks of doughnuts for everybody.

The report from Christy Ferguson, who's running it, is that people are hugging their employees when they find out what the options are.

The idea that CMS -- that's a pretty anecdotal story. CMS has adjusted the long-term 2010-2020 costs for Medicare and Medicaid down by $1.2 trillion from 2010 estimates to 2013. You've got to believe Obama care has something to do with those huge savings.

The Republican Party decided that Obama care was going to be a failure early on before Obama care was even decided. It was a political choice to pull all support for anything that this president wanted to do. Now they have to live with it, so they have to maintain the story line.

But I have to tell you, Senator Cruz, I don't see it at home; I don't believe it. And I think if you know anybody who had a child, say, with a preexisting condition who was trapped in their job for the rest of their lives, because they could never move, because no other insurer would ever cover for them, or the child who got out of -- went beyond the cap, and the parents had to sell their House in order to pay for the continued cancer treatment, because they had blown through the cap. Those are situations that needed attention s Obama care has fixed them. CRUZ: Let me respond to that with two things. No. 1, it's interesting that you apparently found a family in Rhode Island that went on the exchanges and got insurance.

WHITEHOUSE: Thirteen hundred.

CRUZ: It was publicly reported there were 580 in Rhode Island. In Iowa it was reported there were five in the entire state. So enrollment has been -- let me make a second point. You said criticism of Obama care is, quote, "right-wing histrionics."

WHITEHOUSE: Yes.

CRUZ: And I'm curious if you think it was right-wing histrionics when James Hoffa, the president of the Teamsters, said that Obama care is destroying the health care of millions of hard-working men and women in this country.'

WHITEHOUSE: I have heard that Mr. Hoffa had said that you are using that quote as inappropriate and out of context.

CRUZ: OK. Well, then hold on. The nice thing about CROSSFIRE, we can have -- we can have some back-and-forth.

GINGRICH; We're going to come back to this in a minute. We have to take a break, but don't -- keep it out. We're going to get a chance after the break.

But I do want to suggest something surprising that I think probably Senator Whitehouse will not agree with. I think the president should be sending thank-you cards to all the Republicans, including Senator Cruz. I'll explain why, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

GINGRICH: Welcome back. We're following tonight's breaking news. Let's go to CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Newt, we are learning that the discussion that went on at the White House did surround the whole idea of reopening the government. In fact, the House appropriations chairman, Hal Rogers, just told some reporters here that the president, quote, "wants -- would like to have the shutdown stopped, and we" -- meaning Republicans -- "agreed to try to find the conditions to have a funding bill to end the shutdown."

So Republicans in the House went in to talk about the debt limit, but the president got the ball rolling on reopening the government. We are told that they are going to have discussions here on Capitol Hill, over at the White House probably all throughout the night to figure out what that magic deal is, those conditions that could pass both the House and the Senate -- Newt.

JONES: Well, and the White House apparently just issued a statement saying that the president's meeting with Republican leaders was as follows: "After a discussion about potential paths forward, no specific determination was made. The president's goal remains to ensure that we pay the bills we've incurred, reopen the government and get back to the business of growing the economy."

Well, this is a big deal.

GINGRICH: It could be.

JONES: It could be.

GINGRICH: Having been through several of these, it could be a hopeful start. It could be then you get in a room and say, "What does it mean?" And we'll find out.

The point I was going to make before that, and it's big news. And as you know, we have tonight in the CROSSFIRE both Democratic Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

But the point I was going to make, which is close to what I think Ted was saying earlier -- if we were not in the middle of a budget shutdown, the number of stories you'd have on the front page about the collapse of Obama care in most states would be unending. And I think in a sense Obama care has been helped, although the most recent polling data, is not helped very much by the fact that there are other issues. It's been clouded.

But you were going to share with us just for a minute the letter from the Teamsters.

CRUZ: Well, Senator Whitehouse said that the Teamsters' letter was out of context. And so what happens, I have the...

WHITEHOUSE: That's not what I said. That was what Mr. Hoffa has said, who is the author of the letter.

CRUZ: I understand that what Mr. Hoffa really wants is an exemption for unions. But I have the entire letter here. And so if you're going to suggest it's out of context, I will read you the sentence.

WHITEHOUSE: He's the author, and he told you it was out of context. I will leave it at that.

CRUZ: Sheldon, let me read the sentence that I quoted. This is from his letter. "On behalf of millions of men and women we represent and the families they support, we can no longer stand silent in the face of elements of the Affordable Care Act that will destroy the very health and well-being of our members, along with millions of other hard-working Americans."

Now, for the viewers that are watching this who may not believe a Republican politician, I'm going to suggest to you that James Hoffa, who is a liberal Democrat, who has supported the election of President Obama and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, and who said in writing that Obama care is destroying the 40-hour work weeks.

WHITEHOUSE: No. Elements of it. Elements of it.

CRUZ: Actually, I'm quoting now from another portion of the letter, "That it is destroying the foundation of the 40-hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class." And if you'd like to read the context, the full context is there.

JONES: Actually I Googled it myself, and it was actually like talking about, like many people, frankly, just like you, there are things that he likes about it and things he doesn't like about it.

But here's the thing that I think we've got to be clear about. Let's not demagogue this thing. Yes, a brand-new program, a brand-new Web site that got more hits than Twitter got in its first 24 months in a week has had some problems. But if you look at California, I think 30,000 people have been able to enroll. New York, 40,000 people have been able to enroll.

Medicare D, that rollout was bumpy. Nobody is complaining about it now. Romney care, roll out was bumpy. Everybody in Massachusetts loves it. My question to you is, yes, you're demagoguing the problems with the roll out.

In a couple of years, when this thing is a standard part of our country, when insurance companies can no longer dump people, can no longer deny people, are you going to acknowledge that you are on the wrong side of this?

What are you going to tell people when insurance companies who, for years now -- I've heard you talk about this -- insurance companies have been denying people for years. Dumping people for years. Obama care is trying to do something about it. What are you trying to do about it?

CRUZ: Van, the focus should be on the millions of Americans who are hurting because of Obama care and the millions of people that are being pushed into part-time work, working 29 hours a week because of Obama care. And the people, the 110,000 IBM retirees who received a letter saying they're losing their health insurance because of Obama care.

The 15,000 UPS employees...

JONES: I've got some numbers, too.

CRUZ: ... who received a letter saying that they were losing their spousal coverage; their husbands and wives were losing their coverage.

And Van, let me suggest...

JONES: Sure.

CRUZ: ... what success should be. I don't know if this deal that was just reported on will be a deal or not. But let me suggest what the test for success should be.

Success should be meaningful relief for the millions of Americans who are hurting because of Obama care.

JONES: What about...

CRUZ: My test for success will be, does it help the single mom who's forced to work 29 hours a week and is struggling? If it does, it's a good outcome, and if it doesn't, it's a lousy outcome.

JONES: Let's talk about single moms. In your state, sir, in your state 25 percent of the people in your state have no health insurance at all. And there are single mothers right now who have cancer, who have preexisting conditions, and they can't get any help from anywhere except through Obama care.

And if it were up to you, those single moms would be staying up at night with no hope and no help for them or for their children. And you have yet to put on the tableanything that would do something about that.

You are now blaming everything that's wrong in America on Obama care. That is demagoguery, sir. That is demagoguery.

WHITEHOUSE: Let me jump in, because we can have that discussion all day long. And it's an important discussion. Obama care is big, and it's going to make an important difference. And we should be having continued discussions about it.

What we should not be doing is shutting down the government of the United States, threatening the credit of the United States in order to improve a bargaining position and, basically, force the United States into a hold hostage situation. That isn't helpful. That isn't productive. That is the -- to use a phrase that Republicans have used, a boxed canyon. The extremists have forced ourselves into.

And when we solve that, as soon as the government is back operating, as soon as the debt limit is not threatened by extremism and we can not have that shadow fall over our economy, we'll negotiate on everything.

CRUZ: Well, let me respond to both of those. First of all, with all respect, Van, what you said is simply not true. I am a big supporter of health-care reform. I think we need to allow interstate competition, a national marketplace, to lower costs, expand availability and to make health care personal and portable and affordable. And I am a huge proponent of that and have been talking about it a long, long time.

Now secondly, what Sheldon said there, I'm curious: do you think the Senate should vote on the 14 bills the House has already passed to fund vital priorities like the V.A., like our parks...

WHITEHOUSE: No. I think that's a sham.

CRUZ: You don't think we should even vote on them?

WHITEHOUSE: I don't, because you can waste time voting on them and every one you vote is a vote to leave every other agency that's not in that particular bill shut down.

CRUZ: So Sheldon, what do you say to the veterans?

WHITEHOUSE: I haven't interrupted you. To deny the service that the American people count on from all those other agencies.

I say to the veterans, and I say to people who are served by EPA and I serve [SIC] to people who have saved stock portfolios because of the Securities and Exchange Commission and I say to people who have fire protection because of federal programs, I say to all of them, open the government up and let's negotiate like Americans do. And let's not negotiate by harming other people and saying that, unless you have it your way, you're going to keep hurting these innocents. This is just wrong. And putting an end to that. I think we have good news on that.

JONES: Well, listen: we are going to keep you here. We're going to break for a minute. I'm going to keep you here. We have at least one more question for our guests, and we're going to be right back. Don't go anywhere. You guys don't go anywhere, because we're not done.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GINGRICH: We're back for the final minutes with our guests, Senator Ted Cruz and Sheldon Whitehouse.

I have one specific question to you. There's a brand-new poll out today that reflects the gradual penetration of Obama care's challenges. And it indicates that when asked, "Should government mandate Americans to buy health insurance?" it is 28 percent yes and 68 percent no.

Now do you think that maybe some reason to at least revisit and rethink some of this?

WHITEHOUSE: I think revisiting and rethinking this in the ordinary procedures is always a sensible thing to do. We have to get away from the hostage dramas, and we have to get back to regular order. And when we do, any of those topics can be raised.

I would point out one thing: I would bet you any amount of money that if you said, "We've got to get everybody into the system in order to be able to do -- solve the preexisting condition problem so the families aren't chucked out on their own when they hit their limits or have a preexisting condition," those numbers would change a lot. And that was the balance of Obama care. We can always re-litigate it, but don't forget the families who are helped.

JONES: I think it's actually a very good point. And you -- we're starting to get a little bit constructive, figuring out how to solve the problem. I like that part of the show. Isn't the irony of Obama care simply this: in order to get the stuff everybody likes, like no denying of anybody any coverage, you have to accept the stuff you don't like, which is the mandate?

In other words, what pays for the stuff everybody likes, which is that everybody has a shot at health care, is the mandate. How can you possibly say that our insurance companies can cover everybody if everybody doesn't have to pay in? You can't get something for nothing. You're not a sugar daddy, are you?

CRUZ: And because we know now it's not working. Three and a half years ago, someone might have thought maybe this would work, but we've seen what's happened in the time since it's been implemented.

JONES: Romney care?

CRUZ: There's a reason why the unions are asking to be let out. There's a reason why Democratic members of Congress are asking to be let out. And in my view, it is not right that the president has given an exemption for big business. It's not right that the president has given an exemption for members of Congress, both of which are contrary to law.

JONES: How would you -- I get that, but how would you make it work?

CRUZ: And then President Obama and Harry Reid have forced a government shutdown in order to deny that same exemption to hard- working American families. I don't think we should treat the ruling class in Washington better than hard-working American families. I think it's wrong that big business and members of Congress get an exemption. And I think we ought to treat the American families at least as well. That's what this fight is about.

JONES: How would you pay for it?

WHITEHOUSE: If any of that were accurate, that's the kind of thing we could hash out sitting around a table together.

GINGRICH: Now we know why we can continue to have CROSSFIRE.

JONES: Exactly. Listen, thank you for being here, both of you. I mean that. It means so much to have you here.

And thank you for watching. From the left, I'm Van Jones.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich. Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.