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To progressive Rep. Greg Casar, debt ceiling agreement is 'lose-lose situation'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We're waiting to see if a deal to raise the debt limit will pass its first major test in Congress. The House Rules Committee is voting on whether to advance the deal, which was reached by President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over the weekend. The White House says this deal represents a compromise, but there are members on both sides of the aisle who are signaling their dissatisfaction with it. On the Republican side, members of the Freedom Caucus are urging their party to block the deal. And on the Democratic side, some progressives say while they stand with President Biden and want this bill to pass, they're still disappointed. That includes Congressman Greg Casar of Texas. He serves as whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and we spoke to him earlier today before the House Rules Committee voted on this deal. Congressman Casar, welcome.

GREG CASAR: Thanks so much for having me on.

CHANG: Well, thanks for being with us. So assuming this proposal does advance, will you vote for this deal?

CASAR: This is not a both sides issue. There's really just one of the two political parties in this country who are willing to send us into default and devastate the entire American economy. And that's the Republican Party. Progressives and moderate Democrats are united around the ideal that America should pay its bills.

CHANG: Well, will you vote...

CASAR: So progressives...

CHANG: ...For this deal to make sure that the debt ceiling...

CASAR: Oh, yeah. No, I'm very happy.

CHANG: ...That the debt limit will be raised?

CASAR: I'm definitely going there next. But important first to note that the Democrats have been united from Day 1 and will continue to make sure that there is not a default. So you're going to see some Democrats vote yes and some vote no.

CHANG: What about you?

CASAR: Some Democrats will vote yes to get the deal done so default will be avoided. And then progressives, including me - many are leaning no because we have to hold the line against people getting screwed, getting kicked off of vital food programs, getting kicked off of their childcare assistance, losing health care or losing housing.

CHANG: This could have been worse, right? For example, veterans, people experiencing homelessness, those who grew up in foster care - they were all spared from some of the work requirement expansions that Republicans had wanted to see in this deal. Tell me why this current compromise just isn't good enough as it is now.

CASAR: So the Progressive Caucus has pushed and has helped make - reduce the amount of damage. But the reason that this entire thing is ludicrous and it's a lose-lose situation for people that care about the American people is that the extremist Republicans holding the entire economy hostage don't care about the deficit. They've been caring about kicking a few people age 50 to 54 off of their meager food assistance. We've gone and talked about, OK, let's reduce the deficit by closing tax loopholes that let billionaire corporations get away with tax cheating. They said no. In fact, in this deal, one of McCarthy's...

CHANG: I hear you pointing blame...

CASAR: ...Bottom lines was to...

CHANG: ...I hear you placing blame...

CASAR: ...Was to defund the IRS programs.

CHANG: ...On extremists on the other side. But if I can just point out, I mean, for any deal to ultimately pass on the debt ceiling, people on both sides cannot have everything that they want in this deal. Do you at least acknowledge that?

CASAR: Well, let's acknowledge two things. First of all, this deal we all expect is going to pass, so we're going to avoid default. And compromise is necessary when you face a challenging situation...

CHANG: Right.

CASAR: ...A hurricane, a pandemic. In this case, we're not facing that. It's a manufactured crisis.

CHANG: I know that, you know, the debt ceiling, you believe, should be abolished. Democrats had their best shot at making that a reality or just raising the debt ceiling on their own terms when they still controlled the House at the end of last year. But they did not. So let me ask you. I know that you were not in Congress at the end of last year, but do you blame your own party in part for missing that opportunity?

CASAR: Strategically, I think it is a failure on the part of those folks that are seeing that we're in a situation having to negotiate with people who really have not minded the potential of millions of people losing their jobs. We have to get their finger off of the nuclear button. And that means no longer having this kind of vote that used to - you know, a hundred different times...

CHANG: Do you wish your own party...

CASAR: ...Because both parties just said we're going to pay the bills.

CHANG: ...Took more initiative at the end of last year to raise the debt ceiling on their own terms?

CASAR: I think we absolutely should have done that at the end of last year. And now we need to make sure we're never in this kind of situation again so that we can have a real discussion and a real compromise on our budgets but not with the full faith and credit of the United States hanging over people's heads, where millions of community members who have nothing to do with this could lose their jobs or their homes or their health care. That's just not right.

CHANG: Congressman Greg Casar, Democrat from Texas and whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Thank you very much for joining us today.

CASAR: Thank you so much for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kai McNamee
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.