ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Over the next few weeks, Congress and the White House face three deadlines, each with huge potential consequences for the government's finances. In March, the automatic deep spending cuts in non-entitlement spending, known as sequestration, come due. Later that month, the continuing resolution that funds the government expires, and according to the Treasury, before those deadlines, the U.S. is likely to exceed its current borrowing limit, and unless Congress raises the debt ceiling, Washington won't be able to pay its bills.
President Obama says he won't even negotiate on the debt ceiling. What do House Republicans say? Well, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State is the House Republican Conference chair - that is, she's a member of the House GOP leadership - and she joins us from her office. Welcome to the program.
REPRESENTATIVE CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS: Great to be with you.
SIEGEL: The president says, you folks in Congress passed the bills that caused us to spend what we spent and to bring in the taxes that we bring in, so to abide by your laws, the government has to borrow to make up the difference. To make a political fight over that, he would say, just doesn't make any sense. What do you say?
RODGERS: I would remind President Obama that the spending has skyrocketed under his administration. When you look at just the last four years, we've seen record deficits, trillion-dollar deficits. That was new to America when President Obama took office. And so, what we need to be doing is rolling back some of President Obama's spending increases.
SIEGEL: But Representative Rogers, the debt limit that's now being exceeded is the one that was just set in 2011. You voted for it. You've been there for all the spending and taxes that have been voted on since. How can you now say you can't raise it again?
RODGERS: When we voted to raise the debt ceiling, when I voted to raise the debt ceiling and we agreed, we also voted, at the same time, to cut an equal amount in federal spending. So we raised the debt ceiling 1.2 trillion - well, I guess it was a $2.4 trillion increase, but we took 1.2 in immediate cuts and then there's an additional 1.2 trillion that takes effect. You're hearing about it because it's called the sequester.
It's the across-the-board cuts that are going to take effect now on March 1st. And that was an important agreement, that we weren't just continuing to spend on the credit card and rack up the bills, but that we were also looking at where we could cut federal spending.
SIEGEL: So you're saying enacting the sequestration would satisfy your demands in that case - if the president said, okay, cut the rest.
RODGERS: Well, the sequestration and those across-the-board cuts were actually a part of the deal from last summer. So I believe that we need to have additional spending cuts. It is unacceptable to me that President Obama, yesterday, said that he wasn't going to meet the budget deadline. This is a law that is in place that says he has to submit a budget by a certain date. We're going into the fourth year now that the Senate, under Democrat majority, has not even submitted a budget. That is irresponsible.
SIEGEL: This is something that former Speaker Newt Gingrich said recently. He said you Republicans in the House have the continuing resolution to battle over, and the sequestration, but the debt ceiling, he said, guarantees a crisis. It guarantees that the markets will cave in on Republicans and the Republicans, in the end, will give up. Is he wrong? And if he's right, why not fight over the continuing resolution and give in on the debt ceiling, which the markets will come down on you for?
RODGERS: Well, let me be clear. No one wants a government shutdown and that is not what we are encouraging. We want to...
SIEGEL: Aren't you threatening that, though?
RODGERS: We are saying that if the president won't get serious about cutting spending, over the course of these fiscal fights we may reach that point. But that is not what we're encouraging, and especially when it relates to the debt ceiling, we recognize that there are further ramifications. But I think it's important - it doesn't mean a default.
SIEGEL: And if you saw some prospect for some serious spending negotiations, could you see dropping the objections to raising the debt ceiling?
RODGERS: We're serious about cutting spending and the need to get our fiscal house in order. We also recognize there needs to be a way forward, and so we're going to work to make that happen.
SIEGEL: I hear you being less than absolute, less than saying this is an article of faith, you block the debt ceiling if you don't have something in hand by that time. Am I misreading what you're saying?
RODGERS: Well, you know, there's going to be some - we're working internally right now to put forward our strategy to figure out the way forward. And in the House, we're going to be putting forward a proposal for the debt ceiling, for the CR, and for sequestration. All of those details have not yet been decided.
SIEGEL: Well, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, thank you very much for talking with us about it.
RODGERS: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Representative Rodgers is the chair of the House Republican Conference. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.