Transcript: Press conference with Senate Democratic Leaders on the government shutdown & debt ceiling – Oct. 12, 2013

Partial transcript of press conference with Senate Democratic Leaders on the government shutdown and the debt ceiling on Oct. 12, 2013:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada):

This morning at 9 a.m., I met with Sen. [Mitch] McConnell. The meeting was set up last night, late. Sen. McConnell indicated that Sen. [Lamar] Alexander, as Ranking Member of the Rules Committee and worked for a number of years with Sen. [Chuck] Schumer – I was concerned, as you all know, there were different Republican offers going around or discussions with my Senators.

So I called Sen. Alexander and said, “What’s going on?” Anyway, to shorten this story a little bit…he said, “I’m representing Sen. McConnell” but later in the evening, he asked if I would meet with him and Sen. Schumer and Sen. McConnell. I said yes and we met at 9 a.m. this morning.

The conversations were extremely cordial but very preliminary, of course, nothing conclusive. But I hope that our talking gives some solace to the American people and to the world. This hasn’t happen until now. Sen. McConnell asked to meet with me; I was happy to do that. This should be seen as something very positive even though we don’t have anything done yet and long ways to go before anything like that will happen. And I say that in relative terms – in minutes, hours, day, you know, we’re trying to figure out ways to go forward.

Susan Collins is one of my favorite Senators – Democratic or Republican. I appreciate her efforts, as always, to find a consensus. But the plan that she suggest that I’ve seen in writing is not going to go any place at this stage.

Two good things in it. Number one, it opens the government. Number two, extends the debt ceiling. But other than that, there’s little agreement with us.

Now, I want to make sure that people here understand that we have some problems with that as does the White House with the so-called Collins plan. As I explained to Sen. McConnell and Sen. Alexander this morning, they’re not doing us a favor by re-opening the government. They’re not doing us a favor by extending the debt ceiling. Those are – that’s part of our jobs.

That’s why we’ve said, “Open the government. Let us pay our bills. And we need to do that before we have any agreement on what goes after that.”

This is not a concession. This is basically doing our jobs. This is what we’re supposed to – default is 4 days away.

I say again I’m grateful and thankful Sen. McConnell reached out to me. I was happy to do that.

You know, I had a piece of legislation on the floor today to extend the debt ceiling for a year. It’s hard for me to comprehend but every Republican voted against this. This was a motion to proceed to the measure so that we could debate it. If they had allowed us to invoke cloture on this, we would have had 30 hours, use every minute they wanted to, to see if we could come up with something. They just voted no.

Now, procedurally, you guys you know how it works around here. That’s not easy to move forward. I can’t imagine why they did. Defaulting our debt will risk millions of Americans’ jobs, not thousand, not tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands – millions of jobs.

Social Security checks, Medicare payments, even our military. And then we’ve got people over in the House saying, “We can prioritize them.” There isn’t a reasonable person in the economy any place that thinks that would work.

We want to re-open our government, pay our bills so that we can move forward with good faith negotiations on a long-term budget. That’s what Sen. McConnell and I are working on.

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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois):

People of America have seen this movie several times. The American damsel is tied to the tracks and the engine is baring down and the question is whether or not Congress at the last minute will come to the rescue and save this country. And I think some of them have said, “Well, ultimately, they’ll work it out.” And I think there is reason to believe that ultimately we will work it out.

But let’s be honest where we are. We saw it today on the Senate floor. First, we ended up with a sad outcome when it came to this vote. Troubling to me that not a single Republican would step up and allow us to start the debate on whether or not we avoid the debt ceiling default in just four days, as Sen. Reid has said. Not a single Republican would step forward.

In fact, some had said, “We’re looking forward to this vote to vote no.” I don’t understand their logic but that’s what they said.

But before people give up hope and hear the train whistle and wonder if this is going to end up in the right way, at the same time if you witnessed the floor of the Senate, there were active conversations going between Senators in both political parties.

Beyond what Sen. Reid mentioned in his earlier meeting with Sen. McConnell, there’s an active conversation between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Why? We understand how important this is. We understand how much damage has been done already to 800,000 furloughed federal employees and all the people who rely on government services.

And we realize the potential damage to 300 million plus Americans if we default on this debt for the first time in history. It’s been spelled out. And only those flat Earth economists who somehow inspire a handful of extreme Republicans, aside from them the economists have told us in clear terms, “We’re dealing with increases in interest rates for everybody – every individual, every family, every business in our nation – and the reputation of the United States is going to be damaged in a way it’s never been damaged.” That’s how serious it is.

And that’s why I believe these conversations are underway and why they must proceed. We’re going to continue to open up these channels and try to find a way to deal with this. It is troubling. It is heartbreaking to think that we have reached this point.

We are motivated not only by what’s good for the nation but by the fact that the House Republicans have failed – utterly failed – in leadership in terms of coming forward and coming up with the solution.

Now, we have to accept the responsibility and I hope we can rise to that.

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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):

First, I’d like to say we had a very good caucus today. Democrats were unified and we’re all united around the principles of open our government, pay our bills, and let’s negotiate.

So today brings bad news and good news. The bad news is that the motion to proceed so that we could pay our bills failed because it didn’t get the 60 votes. It didn’t get the bipartisan support that we had hoped.

This is playing with fire. We don’t know when the markets will react. You can’t say it will be no sooner than next Thursday.

I worry on Monday that when the American markets open – maybe because of this vote – that they will start worrying and not only will the stock market go down but interest rates go up and the value of U.S. Treasuries decline. It’s very serious.

And it would have been a whole lot better if we’d just put this aside and had 100 to nothing vote to pay our bills. That didn’t happen.

The good news is that the meeting that Sen. Reid and I had with Sen. Alexander and Sen. McConnell give me a little bit of cause for optimism. Clearly, the talks are in their very early stages. But I believe Sen. McConnell showed good will. I believe he wants to come to a solution. I believe he knows how serious it is to default.

And my view is that it will be the Senate that will have to come to an agreement here because the House Republicans seem so divided and in such disarray. They don’t have a plan.

And so the hope is that at the end of the day, sooner rather than later, in a bipartisan way, we can come together and take this burden off the shoulders of the American worker, the American family and the American economy by coming up with a fair, reasonable solution.

As Leader Reid said and we made clear that we don’t regard it as a concession to open up the government. We don’t regard it as a concession to say we want to pay our bills. That is our job, and we should all be doing our job. And figuring out a way to stick to those principles and come up with a bipartisan agreement is our job over the next few days.

I’m considerably more optimistic today than I was yesterday as a result of our meetings and as a result of many other things that have happened, and we’re all ready to roll up our sleeves and work to avoid this calamity. And we’re for our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to join us.

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Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington):
…We here in Congress have a responsibility to make sure that [Americans] are not worried about their paychecks or about the economic future of this country or whether or not we’re going to be able to work together.

We stand here very strong as Democrats to say that we are willing to work together when the government is open and we’ve told the economy that we’re going to pay our bills. Extremely important to us.

There are conversations going on. They’re critical. But we also have to remember back to how we got here. When we agreed to have a continuing resolution so we could work on the broader issues that we all have – big disagreements about – and the House Republicans decided they were going to take the Obamacare hostage and shutdown our government, which has now bled to a point where we’re about to not pay our bills and hurt our economy.

They have to stop asking for hostages in order for our country to be okay, for families to have breakfast tomorrow morning without worrying about what’s going to happen on Monday morning in the stock market.

As Democrats, we stand ready to negotiate. None of us believes we’re going to get our way at the end of the day but we shouldn’t be holding our country and our families and our communities hostage any longer. We ask the House Republicans to stand up, pass the continuing resolution that’s in front of them and then work with us on the challenges in front of us.

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Press conference Q&A:

Question: [Inaudible] …What do you think you’re going to accomplish?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
…He’s got problems. I’ve got problems. That’s how arrangements are made. This is a piece of legislation. We’re going to try to work to come up with a compromise. We’re not going to do that until the government re-opens and there’s a way to pay our bills. Sen. McConnell and I have been in this body a long time. We’ve done things for a long time together. I know him. He knows me. We don’t agree on everything. That’s, as you know, probably an understatement…But we did some good things together. We revamped government together as whips. So this is what legislating is all about. If we have political scientists out there right now, this is a classic case of what legislation’s all about. The problem we’ve had in recent years is we’ve had too little of this, too little of sitting down trying to work out problems. So that’s what we’re doing now.

Question:
To what extent are you taking account what the House of Representatives can accept in your talks with Sen. McConnell?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
I don’t think that’s my responsibility. I think that’s Sen. McConnell’s.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
Well, there’s a resolution in the House. They could pass just like that…We hope we could do it for a longer period of time but certainly would be a step in the right direction.

Question:
How long would you like the CR to be and how long would you like the debt limit?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
I would like the debt ceiling for 20 years. [Laughter] And I’d like the CR to be for 10 years. But I think the CR with our number works. But we are negotiating that. It is not – I’m not locked and stocked. Sen. Murray is focused on the debt as has the President and others, but we have to be very careful because we have this automatic sequestration kicks in Jan. 15th and so any date we have to take that into consideration.

Question:
You want to resolve this before Jan. 15th then?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
I’d like to resolve it now. There’s no reason we couldn’t resolve it now…When I say now, I mean in the next 48 hours.

Question:
[Inaudible]…Medical Device Tax..?

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada):
It’s interesting how that’s not part of the discussion anymore. A week ago tomorrow when the Speaker was on national TV talk show, he started off on Obamacare. That lasted about, oh, maybe 30 seconds. And then he switched to spending. That’s where he kept wanting to have the conversation. Obamacare is no longer their number one issue. Their number one issue is to doing anything they can to divert attention from the fools they’ve made of themselves on Obamacare. So we’re taking nothing off the table. I’ve sent the Speaker a letter and of course McConnell got a copy of that letter. We’re willing to talk about anything – anything – there are no limits. We’ll talk about health care, which includes of course Obamacare. We’re willing to talk about anything.

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