AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The president clearly has a tough sell with his new budget, and it's no surprise Republicans are greeting it with condemnation. We're going to talk with one member of the Republican leadership in the House, GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Welcome to the program.
REPRESENTATIVE CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS: Thank you.
CORNISH: Now, last fall, we heard Mitch McConnell and Speaker Boehner describe some of these changes that President Obama is offering, like a means testing in Medicare and the chained CPI, as the kinds of things that would get Republicans interested in new revenue. Now, how do you square that statement with the rejection of the president's budget now?
RODGERS: Well, what we saw from the president was more of the same. We saw him calling for higher taxes, demanding higher taxes for any of those changes that you just laid out at a time when every American just saw their paycheck go down on January 1st. And we saw that also with more stimulus, he was calling for another trillion dollars in new spending and nearly a doubling of the debt, and this is in contrast to where the Republicans and the House want to go. We put forward a budget that balances within 10 years. We believe that that is so important to getting our economy growing, getting people back to work.
You know, I was home visiting eastern Washington last week and continue to hear from people how difficult it is to find a job and the impact that that's having on their families. And so the Republicans believe that this is not the time to be raising taxes. We need to allow families to keep more of their take-home pay and that that is a way that we're going to actually get the economy growing again.
CORNISH: Now, Republicans have also talked about tax reform. In a way, this tax reform, essentially, would raise revenues in one way or another. And are we basically talking about the same thing here? Is this just a rose by another name?
RODGERS: Well, on tax reform, Republicans have long held that we need a simpler, fairer tax code for Americans that can start...
CORNISH: But it also talks about closing loopholes and things like that.
CORNISH: I mean, that would, in effect, raise revenue.
RODGERS: The Republicans would like to bring down tax rates too. And we believe that one of the ways that we would get this economy growing again is through tax reform, to streamline the tax code, close the loopholes, eliminate some of the tax credits, the corporate loopholes, and make a simpler, flatter, fairer tax code for everyone in this country.
CORNISH: I want to ask you about this idea of a grand bargain, this idea that at some point people in Congress would kind of come together, wrap many fiscal issues in one and reach some kind of agreement. Is the grand bargain a mirage?
RODGERS: We haven't been successful to date. To get to a grand bargain, we need the spending side of the equation also. We need to recognize that it's going to take Washington, D.C., Congress setting priorities, making the tough decisions, making sure that we - that our national security is strong, that our defense is strong, that we are enacting ways to protect Medicare and Social Security for generations to come.
CORNISH: President Obama is meeting for dinner tonight with a group of Senate Republicans. He met with you and other key House Republicans last month. What effect, if any, are these meetings having? Do you feel any closer to the president or any, you know, do you feel like you understand him any better through these interactions?
RODGERS: Well, I do think that this is encouraging, that it hasn't happened enough, that it's been more of an effort to campaign to the American people rather than really do the work here, the hard work of governing and coming up with the consensus solutions.
CORNISH: And looking at polls, you know, congressional Republicans don't have very high approval ratings these days. One Bloomberg poll last month put it at 27 percent. Another Gallup poll talked about people viewing Republicans as being too inflexible or unwilling to compromise. What does this mean for you going forward in this battle? I mean, why do Republicans see fighting this battle as a good political strategy?
RODGERS: We are fighting for a stronger America, and we want to work with the president. We want to work with the Senate. We're encouraged that the Senate has put forward a budget. This is the first time in four years that the Senate has even proposed a budget, and that - and the president is spending the time opening up the lines of communication. All of that has needed to happen long before now.
And the Republicans recognize that the sooner that we start taking these steps to get our fiscal house in order, balance this budget, it's going to help get Americans back to work, it's going to help families all across this country that - are having a tough time.
CORNISH: But does this make you look bad? I mean, if essentially the president can go and say, look, I'm buying these guys steak dinners, I'm giving them things that liberals don't like, why won't they get on board? I mean, does it make you look inflexible?
RODGERS: Well, we welcome these important discussions. We have the fewest people employed in this country since 1979. And the current path that the president has outlined that - is not getting people back to work. So it's going to take both parties engaging, give-and-take by both parties, but that's going to be the - in the best interest of the American people.
CORNISH: GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, thank you so much for speaking with us.
RODGERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.