Wisconsin representatives, senators on government funding and the debt ceilingWe asked all eight of Wisconsin's Congressional representatives and its two senators two questions on the current impasse in government funding, and collected their answers.
By: Adam Hirsch, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
We asked all eight of Wisconsin's Congressional representatives and its two senators two questions on the current impasse in government funding, and collected their answers.
First a little bit of jargon, explained.
"A clean CR." A "CR" is shorthand for a "continuing resolution" in the House of Representatives: an agreement to keep funding the government at existing levels. Calling it "clean" is shorthand for saying it wouldn't have pre-conditions on it, most notably at the moment, defunding or significantly altering or delaying the Affordable Care Act. The Senate has passed such a bill and sent it back to the House. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Speaker of the House, has said in recent days that he will not bring the Senate's clean CR to the House floor, as it does not have enough votes to pass ... but Democrats maintain that between their caucus and a group of around 20 Republicans who have signaled they are in favor of re-opening the government with such a bill, the votes are there. Unless and until such a bill comes to the House floor, its passage and who exactly would vote for it remains hypothetical.
Reaching "the debt limit." It's a larger concept than will fit easily in a single paragraph, but roughly speaking, the federal government can only spend money it has been authorized to spend by Congress. One way the government comes up with the money to spend is borrows money from citizens for short- or long-term periods, by selling bonds. If the federal government reaches the debt limit, it will be unable to pay interest on bonds, or issue Social Security and Medicare benefits ... these are just a few among a long, long list of regular expenditures. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has estimated that on or around October 17th, the federal government will not have enough cash on hand to meet its obligations, at which point it would default on some of its payments. This has never happened before. Most lawmakers and economists agree that it would be very bad: provoking uncertainty in world financial markets, requiring higher interest rates on U.S. debt payments in the future, and directly affecting the lives of U.S. citizens who depend on government checks. Some members in Congress have downplayed the importance of the October 17th date, saying that the impact would not be as dire as predicted.
We did a virtual round-the-table with Wisconsin's Congressional representatives and its two senators, asking them:
1. Would he or she vote for a "clean CR?"
2. What is his or her impression of the consequences of hitting the debt limit?
WI-1: Rep. Paul Ryan (R)
"Congressman Ryan is committed to forging a budget agreement. He wants to ensure we can pay our bills today – and tomorrow. That means we need to make a serious down payment on the debt."
[The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Rep. Ryan today, which included a reference to the debt ceiling, associating it with a "crisis."]
"[President Obama is] refusing to talk, even though the federal government is about to hit the debt ceiling. That's a shame—because this doesn't have to be another crisis."
WI-2: Rep. Mark Pocan (D)
"1) Yes, he has repeatedly and publicly called for a vote on a clean CR.
"2) Refusing to raise the debt limit would be fiscal malpractice. It poses an extreme danger to the stability of our markets, threatens the economic security of middle class families in Wisconsin, and could erase all of the gains our economy has made since the economic downturn."
WI-3: Rep. Ron Kind (D)
"1) Yes, Rep. Kind would vote for a clean CR.
"2) On the debt ceiling, Rep. Kind would support a clean vote to raise the debt ceiling, and believes that not raising the debt ceiling would be a major self-inflicted wound on the U.S. and global economy. He absolutely does not want to risk the full faith and credit of the US, which we have never done before."
WI-4: Rep. Gwen Moore (D)
"1. Yes, Rep. Moore would vote for a clean CR. She recently signed a letter to Speaker Boehner urging him to allow a vote on a clean CR. If it would end the government shutdown, she would support a short-term clean CR.
"2. The Congresswoman believes that hitting the debt limit would send devastating shockwaves through both our domestic and the international economy. She believes we must raise the debt ceiling to pay the bills our government has already incurred."
WI-5: Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R)
1. He would not support a clean CR at this time.
2. If the president's failure of leadership allows for default, the consequences will be dire.
WI-6: Rep. Tom Petri (R)
1) At this point, with the debt limit also approaching, Congressman Petri would like to see more out of the process than just a short-term extension that prolongs the standoff. This is an opportunity for us to think big and get some serious work done on our long-term budget problems. Congressman Petri doesn't believe we should be kicking the can down the road anymore and he would like to see a resolution that includes a serious deficit reduction strategy.
2) Congressman Petri believes it would be irresponsible and economically tumultuous if the debt ceiling were to be hit. He does note that the debt ceiling is a somewhat flexible date based on revenues coming in and bills the government receives. There are measures the Treasury Department can take to prevent defaulting. Previous budget standoffs and debt ceiling negotiations have traditionally included a focus on reducing spending and getting our finances in order, and he is hopeful that we can tackle some of the big issues contributing to our debt.
WI-7: Rep. Sean Duffy (R)
We received no response from Rep. Duffy.
WI-8: Rep. Reid Ribble (R)
1. Congressman Ribble believes the first question [on voting for a clean CR] is moot at this point. The issue of the CR has merged with that of the debt ceiling now basically a week away. All discussions (by leadership of both parties) seems focused on the debt limit and the CR is rolled into that. That said he is an original cosponsor of legislation introduced 6 months months ago that would have avoided the shutdown. (HR 1164). That bill would require in the event of an impasse (like has happened) a clean CR would be instituted for 90 days to allow time for both sides to continue talking. After 90 days funding would be cut by 1 percent and would remain there for another 90 days at which point a similar trigger would occur ... helping to spur both sides to a resolution.
2. [Reaching the debt limit] could be devastatingly harmful for our nation and economy. He takes the prospect of a default incredibly seriously.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D)
1. She has already voted for a clean CR in the Senate.
The political game that has been played by Congressional Republicans has shut down the government and their continued threats of government default are threatening our economic recovery. It is time the House leadership step up and actually lead. More than one week ago, the Senate passed a clean bill that funds the government, ends the shutdown and opens the government for business again. Speaker Boehner has obstructed that measure from going to the House floor for a simple up or down vote. It is my hope that a growing number of House Republicans will realize that it is time to end their political games and that it is time for the House to have an up or down vote on a clean continuing resolution to end this shutdown.
2.The economic consequences of an unprecedented default could be even worse than the 2008 financial crisis, and it is reckless and irresponsible for Tea Party Republicans to hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to their political demands. House Republicans don't seem to care that even the hint of defaulting on our obligations by a minority of Republicans in Congress had severe consequences for our economy when it last happened in the summer of 2011. The stock market plummeted and the U.S. credit rating was downgraded for the first time in our nation's history. Businesses froze hiring in August of 2011 and that was one of the lowest months of job growth over the last two years. Consumer confidence dropped and widespread uncertainty was created for middle class families. The last thing we need right now is more political games. The last thing we need right now is to create another self-inflicted economic wound in Washington that will hurt middle class families and small business, those that are working so hard in Wisconsin to get ahead.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R)
The government does not need to be shut down. It would not be shut down if Harry Reid and President Obama showed even a small willingness to compromise. I fully support and appreciate what the House is doing – prioritizing and passing smaller funding bills and sending them over to the Senate so we can start opening up important parts of the government.
The Senate should vote to continue funding the government at the Budget Control Act levels that President Obama, Harry Reid and 45 other Democratic senators agreed to back in 2011. In addition, the Senate should agree to give up special treatment for members and their staffs – we should all feel the full pain of Obamacare. It's all too typical that Senator Reid won't live by the Obamacare law he rammed through Congress.
We need to take the federal government's debt and long term deficit spending seriously. We shouldn't raise the amount of debt we pile onto the backs of our children and grandchildren without a serious discussion of the driver of that debt - unsustainable federal spending on entitlements. The president needs to stop trying to panic financial markets with talk of default. Instead, he should provide responsible leadership. Spending should be prioritized to show financial markets we're serious about addressing the underlying cause of our increasing debt.