MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Earlier today, I spoke with Congressman Phil Roe, Republican of Tennessee. He's a member of the Tea Party Caucus. He's also a medical doctor. He'd like to see the healthcare law repealed or defunded but, he insists, he doesn't want to see a shutdown.
REPRESENTATIVE PHIL ROE: None of us, I haven't heard anybody on our side of the aisle say that I got elected to shut the government down. I got elected to run the government more efficiently, lower taxes. So that's what my message is, and I think we have to have - look, you have to have two willing parties to have a discussion and we've sent various things over. They've sent it back.
We can go to a conference and work those out or we can go ahead and keep playing ping-pong, which is what we're doing now.
BLOCK: Do you accept that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land? It's been upheld by the Supreme Court. There have been dozens of moves to defund it or undo it in the House and they have failed. So why not move on, Congressman?
ROE: Yeah, it is the law of the land. There's no question about that. We voted - along with I voted 37 times to repeal part of it. Remember, the president has signed several of those bills into law. This bill is so complicated. If we had an hour or so on your show, I would be delighted to sit down and discuss this in detail. So I came here to work on healthcare. I still feel like that's one of my missions and callings here.
BLOCK: So why not decouple that from the budget process? Why basically hold the government spending hostage to this?
ROE: Well, you have to have some way to negotiate an issue that the other side won't negotiate with, and running the federal government is one of them. The debt ceiling is another. Look, we've negotiated. The president said he wouldn't negotiate on the debt ceiling when he just did 24 months ago. And presidents have - Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan sat down and negotiated lots of things. Bill Clinton did the same thing with Newt Gingrich.
This is nothing unusual. It's American politics. It's the way it works.
BLOCK: I wonder, Congressman, if you're concerned when you look at the polls, which show that a majority of Americans will blame your party, will blame Republicans if there is a government shutdown. Speaker Boehner reportedly has warned in private that the shutdown could cost Republicans your majority in the House.
ROE: I disagree with that costing us the majority in the House. I don't believe it will, and I think this is different than 1995. I was out pretty busy delivering babies and practicing medicine in 1995 and '96, during that shutdown. And for most people it - I hardly noticed it. I just went on about my life and my work and that's what most people are gonna do. Hopefully we won't shut it down but if it does happen, that's gonna be the case.
BLOCK: How do you explain, then, that polls seem to indicate that a majority of Americans would blame Republicans for the shutdown? It wouldn't be in the same numbers, blaming the president or blaming Democrats.
ROE: Hey, I can't explain that. I don't that'll occur in my district, but it will maybe countrywide, it does. I don't know who gets the blame. I don't know who gets the credit. We get very little credit when we run it 'cause we have such a low approval rating right now. I think it hardly matters. I think doing the right thing, running the government, getting the budget done, which is our job, I think the American people will be happy with that.
And I think they're - look, I talked to people at home this morning and they're frustrated by the way things are run or not running up here, so I get that.
BLOCK: I want to ask you about a comment I heard from Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, who's been trying to get a temporary spending bill through that would avert a government shutdown. He says it's time to govern. I don't intend to support a fool's errand. In other words, the bids from the House to defund or to delay the healthcare act. What would you say to Congressman Dent?
ROE: You know, I know Charlie well. He's a great guy and I don't think it's a fool's errand. Look, this bill was put through on a single party rule. If Republicans tried to do exactly the same thing, to ram a healthcare bill through that had only Republican support, American people wouldn't accept that either.
BLOCK: But I think what Congressman Dent is saying here is that this is going nowhere. What's happening in this ping-pong match between Congress, it's not going to work well to Republicans' favor. Let's go ahead and get the spending bill passed. Let's avert a government shutdown, deal with healthcare another day.
ROE: That may still happen. What Charlie says may still happen. We'll see.
BLOCK: Well, Congressman Roe, we appreciate you talking with us. Thank you.
ROE: Thanks, Melissa. Thanks for having me on.
BLOCK: That's Congressman Phil Roe, Republican of Tennessee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.