From talk of the House Republicans, now to a top Senate Democrat. Senator Patty Murray of Washington state is chair of the Senate Budget Committee and secretary of the Senate Democratic Conference. Welcome to the program, Senator Murray.
SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: Well, very nice to talk to you.
SIEGEL: And we'll get to the debt ceiling in a second, but first, the continuing resolution. And a point where it seems Democrats and Republicans are in at least provisional agreement, is it fair these days to say that the sequestration that's taken effect, the across-the-board cuts to federal spending are the new normal and we should assume that they'll be the starting point for future spending talks just as they're reflected in the Senate Democratic continuing resolution?
MURRAY: I absolutely disagree with that. Replacing sequestration is one of my top priorities. I replaced sequestration with responsible spending cuts and new revenue in the Senate budget that we passed. That will be the vehicle that we go to conference with the House bill, which is dramatically different. But the cuts from sequestration, across the board, have hurt everything from medical research to people's salaries who are really critical parts of our government, whether they're civilian employees or they work for one of our agencies.
And we are seeing the jobs and economic loss as a result of this very bad law going into place across the board. So replacing sequestration is a top priority of ours as we go into the broader budget negotiations.
SIEGEL: Broader but not immediate for the time being. Whatever continuing resolution will continue the sequester cuts, right?
MURRAY: Here's where we are. We're not passing a budget agreement right now. We're just saying that because we have been delayed to a crisis point, we are going to keep the government open for a short amount of time to allow us to get to that larger budget deal.
SIEGEL: Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton said that a government shutdown - this is a quote - "wouldn't be the worst thing for Democrats," meaning that it would make Republicans look terrible. The latest Pew poll shows that 39 percent of Americans would blame a shutdown on the GOP, and 36 percent would blame it on the Democrats.
Are you concerned that in this confrontation, and perhaps the one just down the road over the debt limit, that Democrats may be seen as being engaged in their brinksmanship that's just as reckless as Republican brinkmanship?
MURRAY: Well, I don't think anybody wins in a government shutdown. That is not where we want to get. But we're not going to be held hostage to some new idea that they have at the last minute in the Tea Party to allow our country to move forward. And we don't have to do that. This is so easy. Pass a clean resolution. This is a small issue: keeping the government running. The big issues, the big challenge is to put together a budget resolution that allows our country to know what our priorities are, how we're going to fund them and how we're going to move forward and what we want to be as a country.
SIEGEL: Republicans sound adamant about attaching to the debt ceiling bill. If not the outright defunding of Obamacare, then some changes to it. Why not revisit, say, the medical device tax if that - if altering that is the price of peace on Capitol Hill?
MURRAY: Anything like that should be decided in the larger budget agreement. We're not going to one-off little pet projects here and there on a small bill to just keep the government running for a few short weeks.
SIEGEL: Let me ask you, though, a bigger question. Americans have now experienced some benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Kids can't be excluded from insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Young adults can stay on their parents' policies until they're 26. And the bill, according to the polls, remains essentially unpopular. And I want to ask you: As a supporter of this bill, if people still disapprove of it a year from now, would it then be time to revisit the law and say maybe there's something wrong here?
MURRAY: Well, I think the answer to that question is that a lot of people who are asked about Obamacare don't know that they may have already benefited or have the ability to benefit or they already have insurance and don't see any changes. What we do know is that there are a lot of people who don't have access to health insurance before Obamacare passed. They may have had a pre-existing condition and were denied. They may have somebody - been somebody who didn't even know how to access it or their job didn't apply for it. They were denied health care...
SIEGEL: But it's a rare program.
SIEGEL: It's a rare program if you don't know that they're benefitting from it. People know if they are getting Medicaid or Medicare or food stamps.
MURRAY: Well, you know, actually, the bill is based on a Republican idea, which is to put in place an exchange, which allows you to go on and the insurance companies to compete for your business. And that means that people can have access to that and choose to have access to a competitive marketplace. Much of the provisions of the law such as allowing your kids to stay on until they're 26 or taking away the lifetime caps that have hurt so many people, those kinds of things you may not know until it actually applies to you.
What I heard from a lot of people before we passed health care reform is they didn't know that they would be denied coverage for something until they were diagnosed with it. We're trying to make the market more fair.
SIEGEL: Senator Murray, thanks a lot for talking with us.
MURRAY: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's Senator Patty Murray of Washington state. She is the chair of the Senate Budget Committee and also secretary of the Senate Democratic Conference.
- NPR (All Things Considered)