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Bennet: debt ceiling default would increase deficit

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet

DENVER — In what may be the first steps toward the resolution of a high-stakes standoff, President Barack Obama and House Republican leaders vowed to keep talking after failing to agree on a deal to extend the debt limit and end the government shutdown during a meeting at the White House Thursday afternoon.

The president reportedly asked House Republicans “what’s it going to take?” to re-open the government, refusing to accept an initial proposal to simply extend the debt limit for another six weeks.

In exchange for increasing the Treasury Department’s authority to borrow money to pay existing obligations, Republicans sought the president’s commitment to negotiate a deal for long-term deficit reduction and a tax overhaul.

But, pressure on the GOP is mounting as the shutdown hit Day 10, especially with the release of a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll Thursday night showing that the public blames Republicans for the shutdown more than the president — by a 22-point margin.

The poll also shows that, one year until next fall’s midterm elections, American voters prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress to a Republican-controlled one by eight percentage points (47 percent to 39 percent), up from the Democrats’ three-point advantage last month (46 percent to 43 percent).

Earlier Thursday afternoon, the president met with Democratic lawmakers at the White House.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, attended the meeting and spoke afterward with Channel 2 News Denver about the ongoing stalemate. Here’s an excerpt of the interview:

Channel 2 News: Obviously, at the meeting, you discussed the Republicans’ proposal. What’s the reaction from the White House and from Democrats, generally?

Bennet: “I think that’s a good step forward, but it seems to me that it’s not of much use to people not to have the government open. I hope the Speaker will consider that as we go into the weekend.”

Channel 2 News: How reflective of the overall dysfunction is it that this proposal doesn’t even bother to re-open the government?

Bennet: “That’s how bad things have gotten in this place. We’ve gotten to the point where the standard for success is that we didn’t blow up — if in fact we can get there — the full faith and credit of the United States, something that has been incredibly important to our country since the founding of our country. It’s been one of our greatest assets, our greatest strengths and now it’s been jeopardized by politics.”

Channel 2 News: Does a six-week extension of the debt limit mean much? We’d avoid default for now, but the Congress would be right back in this rut at Thanksgiving. Does that worry you?

Bennet: “It worries me a lot. I think we’d be much better off having a long-term lifting of the debt ceiling. And if all you cared about was the deficit, it’d be the worst thing you could do to trip over the debt ceiling, because all that would do would spike interest rates and mean we’d be spending even more money on interest rates than we do today.

“I think, actually, a long term deal would be much preferable, opening the government and keeping it open would be much preferable; and having people sit down and actually work out a solution over several months to the fiscal challenges that we face rather than a cartoon for the cable television at night.

“But we’ll have to see how things work out over the weekend.”

Channel 2 News: What’s been the biggest impediment preventing a deal? It just seems like Republicans and Democrats haven’t even been willing to talk to one another, and this has been going on for 10 days.

Bennet: “With this manufactured crisis that we’re confronting, I don’t think the relevant division is between Democrats and Republicans. I think the difficulty is the Speaker has a collection of people in his caucus that are very far outside the mainstream of conventional Republican thought, much less mainstream U.S. political thought, and I think that’s been very, very tough for him to manage — and I say that not as a criticism of him but as an observation of how hard his job is.”