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2013-10-16

"Totally Self-Inflicted Damage": U.S. on Verge of Default as Pain from 16-Day Shutdown Spreads

Topics

Guests

Robert Borosage, founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. He recently wrote an article for Reuters called "Tea Party Zealots Hold the Public Debate Hostage."

Amanda Terkel, senior political reporter and politics managing editor at The Huffington Post.

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The partial shutdown of the federal government has entered its 16th day, and the nation is now on the brink of a default as the government’s borrowing authority ends tomorrow. On Tuesday, Fitch Ratings warned it could cut the the U.S. government’s AAA debt rating if a deal to raise the debt limit is not reached. In a statement, Fitch said, "The prolonged negotiations over raising the debt ceiling ... risks undermining confidence in the role of the U.S. dollar as the preeminent global reserve currency, by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the U.S." The Senate appears to be moving closer to a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt limit, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives failed twice Tuesday to produce its own plan. As lawmakers continue to debate a possible deal to reopen the government, the impact of the shutdown is being felt across the country. North Carolina has become the first state to halt its welfare program due to the shutdown. "It’s meant a lot of pain for a lot of Americans — infants that have lost support for nutrition, children that have been thrown out of Head Start, safety measures that are not taken because the weather buoys are no longer manned. The list can go on, and the effects accumulate each day," says Robert Borosage, founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. He recently wrote an article for Reuters called "Tea Party Zealots Hold the Public Debate Hostage." We are also joined by Amanda Terkel, senior political reporter and politics managing editor at The Huffington Post.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The partial shutdown of the federal government has entered its 16th day, and the nation is now on the brink of a default as the government’s borrowing authority ends tomorrow. On Tuesday, Fitch Ratings warned it could cut the U.S. government’s AAA debt rating if a deal to raise the debt limit isn’t reached. In a statement, Fitch said, quote, "The prolonged negotiations over raising the debt ceiling ... risks undermining confidence in the role of the U.S. dollar as the preeminent global reserve currency, by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the U.S."

The Senate appears to move closer to a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt limit, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives failed twice Tuesday to produce its own plan. This is House Speaker John Boehner.

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Listen, we’re working with our members on a way forward and to make sure that we provide fairness to the American people.

REPORTER 1: Mr. Speaker, can you guarantee to the American people Congress will not go past the deadline and push us into default?

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Listen, I have made clear for months and months that the idea of default is wrong, and we shouldn’t get anywhere close to it.

UNIDENTIFIED: Last question?

REPORTER 2: Mr. Speaker, will there be a vote today on the plan?

UNIDENTIFIED: Right here.

REPORTER 3: Are you going to vote today on this plan that would make some changes to the Senate bill, reopen the government [inaudible]—

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: We’re—we’re talking with our members on both sides of the aisle to try to find a way to move forward today.

AMY GOODMAN: House Speaker John Boehner has refused to allow the House to vote on the Senate plan. Meanwhile, the Senate appears to be close to reaching a deal to keep the government funded through January 15th and the debt limit extended until February 7th. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized House Republicans for failing to reach its own agreement.

SEN. HARRY REID: I know I speak for many of us, who have been working in good faith, when I say that we felt blindsided by the news from the House. But this isn’t the first time. Extremist Republicans in the House of Representatives are attempting to torpedo the Senate’s bipartisan progress with a bill that can’t pass the Senate—can’t pass the Senate and won’t pass the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: As lawmakers continue to debate a possible deal to reopen the government, the impact of the shutdown is being felt across the country. North Carolina has become the first state to halt its welfare program due to the shutdown. Meanwhile, nearly a hundred veterans converged at the National World War II Memorial in Washington Tuesday to protest the shutdown, saying it could put more than 5.5 million servicemembers at risk of not receiving their monthly benefits by November 1st.

To talk more about the government shutdown and the possible default, we’re joined by two guests. Robert Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. He recently wrote a piece for Reuters called "Tea Party Zealots Hold the Public Debate Hostage." We’re also joined by Amanda Terkel, senior political reporter and politics managing editor at The Huffington Post.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Bob Borosage, let’s begin with you. What has this shutdown meant?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, it’s meant a lot of pain for a lot of Americans—infants that have lost support for nutrition, children that have been thrown out of Head Start, safety measures that are not taken because the weather buoys are no longer manned. The list can go on. And the effects accumulate each day. It’s hurt the economy dramatically, and that—those effects accumulate each day. It’s undermined our credibility globally. You know, it’s been a totally contrived and unnecessary crisis which has had real-world and horrible effects that are growing every day.

AMY GOODMAN: Amanda Terkel, you wrote a really interesting piece for The Huffington Post about what gets shut down and what remains open. Can you give us some of the examples?

AMANDA TERKEL: Sure. Well, I think it’s been very frustrating to a lot of people that many Americans are feeling the effects of the shutdown while many members of Congress who caused the shutdown aren’t feeling those same effects. So, Congress, like federal agencies, is supposed to furlough its staff and keep only essential personnel, but there are at least 10 senators and dozens of House members who haven’t furloughed a single member of their staff. And some of these people are like Senator Tom Coburn, who’s always railing about how there’s all this waste in government and all this wasted taxpayer money, yet every single one of his staff is essential.

Congress has kept its gym open, the gym for members. The gym for staff has been closed, but the gym for members is open. And then even there’s a little subway in the bottom of the Capitol so that members don’t have to walk a few hundred feet to get from the Capitol to the House and Senate office buildings, and that little train takes someone to run it. That train is still running.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have people like Steve King of Iowa, one of the die-hards against any kind of—any kind of agreement, kept his entire staff. But you talk about Nobel Prize-winning scientists furloughed.

AMANDA TERKEL: Right, exactly. I think—I believe there are five Nobel Prize-winning scientists who work for the government and who have been furloughed. There’s one man who’s a physicist who said, "You know, I guess that even if you win a Nobel Prize, you’re not considered essential." There’s the man who kind of—who developed the Mars Curiosity rover; he’s been furloughed. And 96 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency staff has been furloughed. And cleanup at—I think it’s something like over 500 toxic Superfund sites, that has stopped, yet every single member of Steve King’s staff, they’re essential.

AMY GOODMAN: So the gym remains open. Head Start was not funded, except for a private foundation gave $10 million. What about day care for congressmembers—meaning their children, of course.

AMANDA TERKEL: That’s a good question. I’m actually not sure about that, although I know for federal agencies a lot of these day cares were being shut down, which had many people worried. They—if they, for example, weren’t furloughed, they’re still having to go to work, but now they can’t get day care, because that’s not considered an essential service. And many private day cares, too, are suffering, as well, because they are used to having all of these students coming in, and now the parents are home, they’re furloughed, they don’t need the use of this day care.

And so, I think, you know, it’s important that this isn’t just affecting people who work for government or who rely on government services, which is pretty much every American, but it’s also affecting many private businesses. Businesses who rely on tourism and who are around national parks are seeing a drop—restaurants, shops, you know, if you run a canoeing service in a national park. So this is really rippling all across all sectors of society.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: You know, Amy, it’s putting a little focus—

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Borosage.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: —a little focus on the people who work for us—federal employees—because they’ve taken the biggest hit. Eight hundred thousand employees have been furloughed. That means they are sent home without pay. If you’re an essential worker, you are required to work without pay. So you pay the costs of getting to work. You pay the costs of buying your lunch or whatever you do to eat during the day, and you’re not getting pay. We’re headed into our third week of these workers forced to work in, in essence, indentured servitude, without pay. And, you know, people tend to be cynical about bureaucrats in Washington, etc., but these employees are people who work for us, they provide services that go to us, and we are abusing them. And there’s no question that the best of them are going to start looking for different jobs.

AMY GOODMAN: Bloomberg has a piece, "Troops Forage for Food While Golfers Play On in Shutdown." "Grocery stores on Army bases in the U.S. are closed. The golf course at Andrews Air Force base is open." Yes, so who is essential, and who isn’t? Now, the way the tea party congressmembers are talking about it is each thing that’s essential, they can vote on, if you want that particular thing to be open. This is certainly a way of, you know, shrinking the government to the size of a bathtub. Your thoughts on that, Bob Borosage, and then what it means moving from the partial shutdown to the deadline tomorrow, October 17th?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, this is—this is an example of why you shouldn’t let children play with bombs. The tea party congresspeople set out to shut down the government and threaten default on America’s debts, in order to get "Obamacare" either defunded or delayed. And when the president sensibly called their bluff and said, "Look, we’re not going to negotiate with a pistol to our head," they have gone—proceeded to go into the shutdown and celebrate it, despite the damage it’s doing to people and to the economy. And now we’re headed into what is unimaginable, which has not been done before: a potential default on America’s debts.

It’s important for people to understand, these are debts that every Republican member in the House, including the tea party members, voted for as part of their budget resolution. So we’re talking about lifting the debt ceiling to cover debts that they supported, to pay the debts that they ran up, and they’re refusing to do that. And we really don’t know what happens if America defaults on its debt. The entire global financial system depends on the security of American bonds. And if they become less secure, if interest rates spike, as they are likely to do, if investors can’t count on them as the equivalent of cash, then you’re talking not about a small slowdown, you’re talking about a multitrillion-dollar house of financial cards that is going to be shaken at its root.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re talking to Bob Borosage and to Amanda Terkel—Amanda Terkel of The Huffington Post, Bob Borosage with Institute for America’s Future. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday.

SEN. DICK DURBIN: We need to open this government. We should do it tomorrow morning, period, just open it. We need to bring these people back to work to perform the services they need to perform for this great nation. And we need to make certain that we don’t default come Thursday. The default would have a negative impact that would have far-reaching consequences beyond this political battle today.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Senator Dick Durbin. Bob Borosage of the Institute for America’s Future, talk about the significance of this default. I was watching Steve King, the congressmember from Iowa, who did not furlough any of his staff, saying all were essential, as, what, 800,000 or more Americans have been furloughed. And he said the default doesn’t really matter, it’s kind of a fake date. He said it would be up to President Obama whether he decided not to service the debt, and he said he didn’t think Obama would imperil the nation in that way.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, you know, you’re playing with—you’re playing with bombs that can go off at any time. On Thursday, the Treasury will have about $30 billion in its coffers. It will have continued bills coming in. And it will have continued income coming in, although not as much as the bills. And so, the question is: What will get paid, and what won’t get paid? The entire Treasury system is designed to pay bills as they come due, not to distinguish between, say, interest on bonds and Social Security payments. Republicans are essentially saying, "Well, look, you can keep the Treasury bills good by paying the interest on the debt we owe to, say, the Chinese, and just delay payments of Social Security payments." That is both administratively enormously difficult to do, given the way the system’s set up, and it is humanly repellent.

A big date, I think, you know, you can—this default isn’t going to be something that suddenly the lights turn off tomorrow, and the Treasury can continue to try to scramble a bit. But on November 1st, a big set of payments to veterans and to Social—and Social Security to seniors have to be paid or postponed. And I think if there’s a D-date on this, where the rubber hits the road, where real pain is going to be felt, beyond the financial system, it will be that.

In terms of the financial system, no one knows. Interest rates are—on short-term notes are already spiking. They could spike at any time, when investors decide they’ve just got to bail out of these instruments because they can’t—they can’t afford to risk what the decline in their value will be. If we get our ratings diminished by the rating agencies, there’s a whole set of investments that pension funds make in Treasury bills that they can’t sustain if they’re not rated AAA. And so, the consequences here are literally incalculable. And how they hit, we don’t know. But they will grow with each moment. You know, Boehner started your show by saying, "I always thought a debt default was wrong, and we shouldn’t get near it." Well, we’re not only near it, we’re beginning it.

AMY GOODMAN: But—

AMANDA TERKEL: And jumping on what Bob said—

AMY GOODMAN: Amanda Terkel.

AMANDA TERKEL: And not only—so you would have the default on the debt ceiling, but you would also have the shutdown continuing, supposedly. And I think that it’s important to look at sort of what hasn’t hit yet with the shutdown, but what will, going forward. So the State Department, for example, remains open, because it had some extra funds that it could use. Those funds are going to run out soon, so the State Department will then have to furlough people, and many of the State Department functions will have to close. The Department of Veterans Affairs will soon, as Bob mentioned, not be able to pay out disability benefits, and many benefits to veterans won’t be coming.

And the District of Columbia will be in a lot of trouble. It has been working off emergency funds. And little things that you wouldn’t even think about—

AMY GOODMAN: Just to explain that, Amanda, on the—on D.C., Congress—people might not realize Congress runs the District of Columbia’s budget.

AMANDA TERKEL: Yes, yes, Congress runs the District of Columbia’s budget, because D.C. here, we are not a state, so we are reliant upon Congress. And with the government shutdown, the District of Columbia is not getting money from the federal government, but it has some emergency funds that it has been using. But little things will stop, things you don’t even realize. For example, there’s basically two groups that do the rape kits. When a person comes into the hospital and they have been the victim of sexual assault, a rape kit is performed to try to get the DNA and help get the victim justice. Those rape kits will stop if the government remains shut down, because right now they have emergency funds from the District of Columbia, but those will stop unless the government opens.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: And it’s important—

AMY GOODMAN: House—

ROBERT BOROSAGE: It’s important to reinforce the fact this is a totally self-inflicted set of damage. This was inflicted by a set of about 40 Republican House tea party members and their outside allies, the money that supports the Club for Growth and Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity and other groups, who decided that they could get rid of "Obamacare," despite the fact that it had been passed and confirmed by the Supreme Court, by holding the government hostage. And the president and no one else was going to take that, accept those terms. And so now they’re faced with: Are they actually going to blow up the place? And they’re—they’ve already shut down the government into its third week, and now they’re headed to the unimaginable: the default of America’s debts.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican Senator John McCain recently appeared on Fox News with host Martha MacCallum. When MacCallum asked him about the White House’s handling of the suspension of death benefits to military families, McCain noted it was a Republican-induced shutdown that caused the problem in the first place. He was also quick to say Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas does not represent all Republicans.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Let’s have a little straight talk, Martha. They wouldn’t have had the opportunity to handle it that way if we had not shut down the government on a fool’s errand that we were not going to accomplish. The whole premise of shutting down the government was the repeal of "Obamacare." I fought against "Obamacare" harder than any of the people who wanted to shut down the government. I campaigned all over this country in 2012 saying, "Elect Mitt Romney, and we’ll repeal and replace 'Obamacare.'" We weren’t going to defund "Obamacare," and so we shut down the government, and then that gave the opportunity for this to be terribly, awfully mismanaged and mishandled by the White House. If we hadn’t shut down the government, this wouldn’t have happened.

MARTHA MacCALLUM: How do you feel about him representing you all there?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: First of all, Martha, please, he is not representing us there.

AMY GOODMAN: That was John McCain of Arizona. The significance of Ted Cruz, Bob Borosage, and his power right now, and where this is all headed?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, Cruz, of course, has benefited from this crisis. He’s risen in the polls among the zealots. He reported contributions of $800,000 to his political operations in the last quarter alone. And he’s driven in the Senate this demand that we hold the government hostage and threaten to default on our debts in order shut down "Obamacare."

And now what you have in both—in both houses now is you have this very small minority holding back any agreement. So, in the Senate, we’re going to have a bipartisan agreement today to reopen the government and to lift the debt ceiling for a period of time. And it can come to a vote immediately if there’s unanimous consent to allow that vote. But if Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, his ally from Utah, decide—alone—to not allow that vote, the Senate can’t even vote on it until after we default tomorrow and until Saturday. In the House, the House yesterday, Republicans met to do a proposal that they would send to the Senate, and the small minority of 40 or so tea party members stopped them from having any agreement on a measure that they could even present on the floor of the House. So you have the minority, you know, very small minorities of the House and the Senate, stopping progress, stopping a settlement that could be made and be supported by the vast majority of both houses.

AMY GOODMAN: House Democrats are criticizing their Republican counterparts for making a little-noticed rule change they say blocked them from reopening the government. The Democrats say House rules should have allowed them to force a vote on a budget bill that had already passed the Senate, but on the eve of the shutdown, the House Rules Committee passed a measure effectively barring anyone except House Majority Leader Eric Cantor from taking such action. Congressmember Chris Van Hollen of Maryland questioned Speaker Pro Temp Jason Chaffetz about the rule change on Saturday.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: So, Mr. Speaker, just so I understand the situation, parliamentary inquiry, H.Res. 368 changed the standing rules of the House to take away from any member of the House the privilege of calling up the Senate bill to immediately reopen the government, is that right?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: It did change the operation of the standing rule.

AMY GOODMAN: Amanda Terkel, the significance of this?

AMANDA TERKEL: It’s incredibly shocking. And I think the fact—what they did is so brazen that you’re starting to see this clip of Chris Van Hollen calling out the Republicans just going viral on the Internet, because people are amazed that Republicans did this.

I mean, it’s just baffled me that all along Republicans have said, "Look, a clean bill to continue funding the government and to reopen the government, it just couldn’t pass the House." Well, if it can’t pass the House, bring it up for a vote, let it fail, and Democrats will lose that very valuable talking point. But clearly they are afraid that it will pass the House with enough Democratic votes—probably all Democrats—and enough Republicans, who are just fed up with all of this and would come together and would pass it. And quite frankly, I’m sort of confused what House Speaker John Boehner is afraid of, because this would give him an out, saying, "Look, we tried, but the votes were there."

And more and more moderates, I think, in the Republican Party are getting frustrated. Last night [Congresswoman] Jaime Herrera Beutler from Washington, a more moderate member, put out a statement telling her party, "It’s time to face reality. I’m not going to vote for any poison pills trying to block 'Obamacare.' You guys need to move on. We need to reopen the government. It’s hurting my constituents. So just, you know, sort of get with it, guys."

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Democratic Congressmember Charles Rangel of New York attempted to explain to CNN host Ashleigh Banfield why he believes it’s impossible to work with House Republicans in good faith.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL: This isn’t a question of the House and Senate differing. This is not even a question of Republicans and Democrats differing. This is all about a handful of people, who got elected as Republicans, that want to bring down our government. You can see it in the streets. You can see where they’re coming from. And the same way they fought as Confederates, they want to bring down the government and reform it.

AMY GOODMAN: Confederates, Bob Borosage?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, exactly. I think—I think this is an extremist band that has no adult supervision on the Republican side.

It’s worth understanding the position that Boehner is in, the speaker of the House, the Republican speaker of the House. He can pass at any moment a bill, with 200 Democratic votes and a couple dozen Republican votes, to reopen the government and lift the debt ceiling. But if he he did that, he would face the opposition of probably a majority of his caucus voting against that. And that obviously puts his speakership at risk. The next day, somebody would challenge him for the speakership and collect those votes and try to dislodge him. So he has to make a very personal decision: Is he the adult in the room, or is he continuing to try to cater to and placate the crazies? And he’s got to put—if we’re going to reopen this government at the end of the day, Boehner is going to have to put before the House a measure that will come out of the Senate with bipartisan support, that will be passed with Democratic votes in the House and put his speakership at risk. And if he doesn’t step up to do that—actually, it’s not—he must step up to do that, because it is unimaginable that we will actually default on our debt for any length of time.

AMY GOODMAN: While Republicans push to gut programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, new figures show next year’s increase in Social Security will already be historically small. According to the Associated Press, Social Security recipients, as well as disabled veterans and federal retirees, will see their payments rise roughly 1.5 percent in January, among the smallest rises since the automatic increases began in '75. The exact size of the cost-of-living adjustment is unknown, because a key federal inflation report has been delayed by the shutdown. But, Bob Borosage, I want to ask you about Medicare and Social Security. President Obama has said this is negotiable. And isn't this what many of the Democrats, including President Obama, have felt for a long time? And this is what the Republicans are pushing for.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, that’s the second horror of this contrived crisis, which—when we eventually pass the bipartisan Senate deal, which is being done today, which I assume eventually we will, that deal essentially says, "Look, the beatings will end, but they’ll begin again in three months." That is, it sets up the borrowing authority only for another three months, to the end of—to early February. It reopens the government and funds it only to the middle of January. And it sets up a process of a committee meeting to negotiate about a long-term, 10-year deficit-reduction program. And at the center of those negotiations will be Social Security and Medicare. So, essentially, you’re saying we’re going to go back into a situation in three months with the gun still at the president’s head of shutdown, sequester, default, only on the table now will be Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and basic security programs for Americans.

And, basically, the argument is, our long-term—we don’t have a short-term debt problem. In fact, the debts are coming down too fast and hurting the economy. We don’t have a mid-term debt problem. But over the long term, America’s broken healthcare system and its rising costs do raise concerns about how we’re going to balance our books. And so, that puts Medicare, Medicaid, and then the Social Security—because of the rising number of seniors, is kind of thrown into that, even though it’s not a problem long-term in terms of our debt—and the president, in previous negotiations with Boehner and in his own budget at the beginning of the year, has put into his proposals cuts that would actually cut benefits in those programs.

So he has supported what’s called the chained CPI, which basically changes the inflation adjust—the adjustment for inflation for Social Security benefits, to lower that adjustment, so that over time, as inflation rises, Social Security benefits will not keep pace with it, and so people will in fact lose the real value of their benefits over time. And the perverse part of that reform is the older you get and the more vulnerable you are, the more your benefits will be cut or will lose ground to rising inflation.

On Medicare, the president has, in different guises, supported means-testing Medicare, meaning make people who have more retirement income pay more for their Medicare. The problem with that—that sounds OK if we ask millionaires to pay more—they won’t miss it. But to get any resources, in fact, revenue from that, you’ve got to ask people who are making—who have retirement income of $40,000, $50,000 to pay more for their Medicare, and they will feel that. And then, he’s also talked about, but walked away from, lifting the retirement age on Medicare.

So, where we’re headed out of this contrived crisis, where the crazies drove the bus, is, three months from now, to a negotiation in which basic security programs of Americans will be on the table, and the gun will still be at the president’s head.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Amanda Terkel, you also talk about issues of reproductive rights involved with these negotiations, that people might not be taking notice of.

AMANDA TERKEL: Yes. I mean, it’s shocking that birth control will come up during a debate about the government shutdown and raising the debt limit. But there are some Republicans in the House who say that they want to insert the "conscience clause" into the Affordable Care Act. This is something that Republicans like Congressman Paul Ryan have been pushing for quite a while, which would allow employers and insurers to not offer free contraception that is promised under the Affordable Care Act, if they have any sort of moral objection. So it doesn’t matter if women don’t have a moral objection and would like to be able to receive that. If their insurer or their employer has a moral objection, they get to make the decision for them, and women have to go elsewhere and pay for birth control that is promised to them under the—under "Obamacare." The fact that this is even coming up right now as a—the fact that we could default on our debt possibly, because Republicans want to restrict access to free contraception, is just absurd.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Bob Borosage, but, you know, there are many Democrats who actually agree with—with cutting Social Security and Medicare.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, cutting Social Security is much more controversial among Democrats. I think any sensible look at that program, it does not contribute to our long-term debt. In fact, Social Security benefits are too low, not too high. We ought to be talking about ways to raise them. I think Democrats on the whole will be opposed to any agenda on that.

On Medicare, it’s more difficult, because in fact we have to get rising Medicare costs—and healthcare costs, generally—under control. The Obama healthcare reforms has helped to do that. So, the costs have been rising less quickly, less—you know, less than they had previously before the reforms. But we have more to do there. The question is, do you cut the costs by cutting benefits, or do you cut them by taking on the entrenched interests—the drug companies, the insurance companies, the hospital complexes—that make American healthcare cost twice as much per capita as any other industrialized countries? And, you know, you can start by cutting the cost of Medicare by simply allowing Medicare to negotiate bulk discounts in prescription drugs, which would save hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years. And that would be a good start. It would take on—

AMY GOODMAN: But under President Bush, of course, they passed Plan B, which stopped that kind of negotiation.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Which is stunning. It actually prohibited Medicare from getting a bulk discount. It was a total and abject giveaway to the drug companies. And, of course, the chairman of that committee then immediately became a million-dollar lobbyist for the drug company after he—after he retired.

AMY GOODMAN: Billy Tauzin?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Of Louisiana.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: So, in the end of the day, progressive Democrats would like to find ways—have to find ways to slow the—to reform our healthcare system so it delivers better healthcare at less cost. But that is very different than cutting benefits in Medicare. And that’s the line that’s going to have to be—that we’re going to have to try to enforce from the outside.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to wrap up, but very quickly, of course, all of this—the irony of all this, they shut down the government, and the very thing they’re against, Affordable Care Act, then this obscures the fact that the websites for the marketplaces, state and federal, have had so much trouble. Bob Borosage, is there a number you have, an estimate of the number of people who have signed up all over the country, with many of the websites down most of the time for this massive launch that has shocked so many?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, it’s not in—it’s not in the hundreds of thousands. It’s in the handful of thousands. Some of the state sites have worked, and worked decently, even though they have to make their way through federal things. And so, in the states with Democratic governors that wanted the program to work, they fared a bit better. But on the whole, the federal chaos has made it almost impossible even for the navigators to help people to sign up.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Borosage and Amanda Terkel, I want to thank you for being with us—Bob Borosage of the Institute for America’s Future, Amanda Terkel with The Huffington Post. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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