Portman, Durbin Optimistic on Shutdown, Debt-Ceiling Talks

Sunday, 13 Oct 2013 12:40 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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There is blame to place on both sides of the table over the nation's budget problems, Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman acknowledged Sunday on NBC'S "Meet the Press," but both he and Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin said they're feeling optimistic about conversations that have been started, with Durbin calling them a "breakthrough."

Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, told show host David Gregory that while he doesn't want to be "overly optimistic," the conversation that started Saturday between Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid "has the promise of finding a solution."

Meanwhile, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, also on the Sunday news program, said the ongoing impasse is harming Americans at home and damaging the country's reputation.

While Portman is optimistic about at least a short-term solution to the looming debt ceiling issue and the ongoing shutdown, he insisted Democrats must be willing to talk.

"First of all, Congress can't do its job unless Democrats are willing to talk," Portman said. "The reason he [Durbin] said it was a breakthrough is because the president has refused to negotiate."

Durbin insisted that part of the problem is talks should have been done in a budget conference six months ago.

But Portman said the Senate "refused to put a budget out" because Democrats said "we still have these appropriations bills."

"Republicans and Democrats alike are overpromising and overspending," said Portman. "There's fault on both sides. That's why the president and the leaders of Congress need to take the responsibility of dealing with the underlying problem."

Durbin said he's a "hopeful person" who wants "sensible people to prevail" when it comes to raising the debt ceiling and ending the government shutdown by this Thursday.

And Portman said he's also optimistic about this week's votes, and that Congress will decide that "we need to avoid going over the debt limit. It will probably be a rather short-term solution."

But meanwhile, Portman insisted he continues to oppose Obamacare and thinks it should be repealed and replaced.

"We can minimize the damage in this process by doing certain things that were consistent with the original Obamacare like making people verify their income when they go on exchanges," said Portman. "I don't think there will be a long-term solution in the next few days, but I think we'll figure out a way to put off the discussion."

Durbin insisted that this week's glitches have gotten Obamacare off to a rocky start "because 15 million people wanted to get on ... 40 or 50 million Americans don't have any insurance," and he thinks Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius should keep her job, despite cries for her to resign.

Portman agreed that he doesn't think Sebelius is entirely at fault for the "much deeper" problem with Obamacare.

"I think the law is fundamentally flawed," he said. "I think this rollout is a disaster, not just a glitch."

Panetta, who was White House Chief of Staff during the Clinton era and the nation's last shutdown, in 1996, told Gregory that there are "a lot of politics and soundbite wars" going on, and "the fact is everybody knows we've got to extend the debt limit in order to avoid that catastrophe."

Panetta said he's surprised that the lessons learned 17 years ago aren't being applied.

"You don't shut the government down, you don't hurt the American people," Panetta said. "Why would you allow a small minority who can't get their way to basically take out their vengeance on their fellow citizens?"

Related stories:


Debt Stalemate Breeds Frustration; US Heads Toward 'Dangerous Moment'

Sen. Manchin: Government Shutdown Is 'Self-Inflicted Pain'



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