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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript: Debt Limit


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BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news.

The House Republican leadership left a crucial meeting with President Obama over at the White House just a little while ago. They didn't make any formal comments about a potential deal on raising the debt limit. We anticipate maybe we will hear something shortly. In the meantime, we're joined by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He's an independent, but he caucuses with the Democrats.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: We got a lot of questions. I tweeted, send me a suggested question for you.

Senator Sanders, this came in. "How will you vote on the six- week debt ceiling proposal from House Republicans?"

SANDERS: Let me just say, this whole issue can be resolved if Speaker Boehner allowed the House of Representatives to have a vote. A majority of the members of the House right now are prepared to vote...

BLITZER: But he's not allowing that.

SANDERS: Well, that's the problem.

BLITZER: So, what if the six-week extension, though, does come up?

SANDERS: If he does not agree to end the government shutdown, and allow a million people to get back to work and earn a paycheck, no, I will not support that.

BLITZER: In other words, it's got to be linked? You raise the nation's debt ceiling and you end the government shutdown or nothing?

SANDERS: Wolf, the situation is so pathetic that we see it as a major gift on the part of Republicans that for the first time in the history of the United States, they are prepared not to default.

That's not much of a give. The business community is very clear, everybody is very clear. The economists are telling us it will be a catastrophe. Obviously, what we have to do is pay or bills, but equally important, we have tens of millions of people today who are not getting the government services they paid for.

I am chairman of the Veterans Committee. I worry very much about what is happening to thousands and thousands of veterans. What we have got to do is open the government and of course we have to pay our bills.

BLITZER: But if Boehner doesn't budge on allowing a clean continuing resolution, as it's called, to come up for a vote in the House, isn't it better at least to end the debt ceiling issue and let the money flow for Social Security recipients, for veterans, for foreign investors in the United States who own a lot of these usual treasuries?

SANDERS: And keep tens of millions of people, kids on Head Start not being able to go to Head Start, seniors who are on the Meals on Wheels program not being able to get the food, the nutrition that they need, not having important agencies which protect our health fight against influenza and disease?

No. The Republicans have got to do what the American people want. And that is stop holding this government and the American people hostage. And I think they're, by the way, getting that message.

When Wall Street and the big-money interests who sponsor the Republican Party are coming in and say, you guys are nuts, because if you don't pay our debts, we're going to see an international financial crisis, Republicans are beginning to catch on to reality.

BLITZER: They had that big, big meeting over at the White House, the Republican leadership with the president.

Only moments ago, Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the House, the Republican, he said this. Let me play the clip.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: We had a very useful meeting. It was clarifying, I think, for both sides as to where we are.

And the takeaway from the meeting was our teams are going to be talking further tonight. We will have more discussion. We will come back to have more discussion. The president said that he would go and consult with the administration folks, and hopefully we can see a way forward after that.


BLITZER: All right, so that sounds optimistic. He seems to be inclined that there may be a deal in the works.

SANDERS: Well, I certainly hope that they do what the American people overwhelmingly want them to do, and that is reopen the government and pay our bills.

But here is what I worry about. These guys haven't quite caught on that they lost the last election. What I fear very much is what they are going to now demand is that we cut Social Security, we cut Medicare, and we cut Medicaid, and if you do all of these things that the American people, by the way, are overwhelmingly against, well, we will be nice guys and maybe we will reopen the government.

That is blackmail, and we should not...


BLITZER: But you know that, separate from the debt ceiling, the government shutdown, even the president has been open to some entitlement reform, as it's called, even involving Social Security, cost-of-living index, stuff like that.

You're not very happy with that?

SANDERS: No. I disagree strongly, and so do the American people.

If you want to -- first of all, Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus. It can pay out all benefits for the next 20 years. You want to make it solvent for the next 75 years, you know what you do? You lift the cap, and you have people who are making millions of dollars contribute their fair share into the fund.

Look, Wolf, the bottom line is, the middle class in this country is disappearing. Poverty is at an all-time high. The richest people are doing phenomenally well. We cannot balance the budget on the backs of the elderly and the children and the sick and the poor. End of discussion. That is just wrong.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for coming in, Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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