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CNN "Newsroom" - Transcript: Debt Limit

Interview

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As Washington inches closer to that debt ceiling deadline, Congress may also be facing a different kind of crisis, a crisis of confidence as voter approval plummets to all-time lows, while frustrations soar to new highs. Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont.

Good morning, sir.

REP. PETER WELCH (D), VERMONT: Good morning.

COSTELLO: I'm glad you're here. But, respectfully, I don't want to play the blame game with you this morning because, of course, we've had 16 days of that. But I do want to talk about something with far greater implications, and that would be trust in government. Congressman, why should Americans have any trust at all in Congress, in you?

WELCH: Well, on the basis of what we've done the last several weeks, they shouldn't. And that's -- in fact, you're exactly right, the casualty here, aside from who's responsible, is that the institution was created to serve the American people and it has to make decisions that help people be successful in their own lives back home. And what we've witnessed is the last several weeks and months, really, is a debate where the premise was it was OK to not pay your bills. And that's just bizarre to most Americans. You owe your plumber, you don't stiff your electrician, you pay your mortgage.

So we have done a lot of damage with this debate. And, in fact, my hope is that when we get this behind us and we finally do raise the debt ceiling and reopen government, that we're going to get down to the basic issue that we have, having a budget that's sustainable, helps bring down the debt and rebuild the middle class of this country. But it's serious damage we've done to the institution.

COSTELLO: That - Congressman, that all sounds - that all sounds great, but the House of Representatives cannot come up with a compromise to end the shutdown. They can't even come up with a bill that everybody can agree on. So, I mean, in negotiations to come, which will be difficult because, after all, the Senate plan, this potential Senate deal, just kicks the can down the road, you're all going to have to sit down again and compromise and you can't do it.

WELCH: Well, you're right, but let me put in perspective the things that I think are good that are coming out of this, even though we never should have had this fight. Number one, the health care battle has been going on for years. It's now over and we're not going to be fighting about whether it will be the law of the land. We'll be really struggle with how to implement it in a way that works. That's number one.

Number two, the president held firm, Harry Reid held firm on this notion, that we have to pay our bills and that cannot be a hostage by a faction of Congress. So by putting that behind us, I think you're going to not see this extreme tactical use of the debt ceiling going forward.

But you are right, I mean there is a battle primarily within the Republican conference, I mean that conference dragged John Boehner through the nine circles of hell on this thing and my hope is that the pragmatists of that party as well as ours get down to the business of making progress on some of these things that have eluded us.

COSTELLO: But -- but Democrats are still going to have to sit down with these conservative Republicans and they're still going to have to talk because that's the way government is supposed to work.

WELCH: Absolutely.

COSTELLO: So how do you repair the damage that's been done over the past few weeks? Do you have a beer summit, team building exercises -- I mean what do you do? WELCH: Well you know you are right about that and the mistake the Democrats can make is to see this as a victory and we overplay our hands. Because bottom line American people are just throwing up their hands in dismay at the dysfunction of this institution so we Democrats have a responsibility and the Republicans have a point about sustainable spending and getting the debt down. But there's ways the Democrats can meet them that do it in a way that build the economy.

So you know, there's no victors here, I mean, bottom line, we're going to reopen government, we're not going to default. That's like very low expectations, but there really has to be a willingness on the part of both of us to get back to work.

There's a lot of members of this House, Republican and Democrat, who would much prefer at the end of the day to make some progress rather than be in this food fight.

COSTELLO: I hope you're right. Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont thank you so much for joining me this morning.

WELCH: Thank you.

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