As October 1st Deadline Approaches, Rep. Diana DeGette Doesn’t Expect A Government Shutdown

September 23, 2021
210722-HAALAND-DEGETTE-DENVER-WATER210722-HAALAND-DEGETTE-DENVER-WATERHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Rep. Diana DeGette speaks during a press conference Thursday, July 22, 2021, after meeting with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead at the Denver Water Center to discuss drought relief and related climate issues.

It’s crunch time in Washington D.C. where Congress faces an October 1st deadline to keep the government open and to deal with the pillars of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.

During an interview with Colorado Matters on Thursday, Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver said she thinks lawmakers will be able to negotiate solutions to both issues, avoiding a government shutdown that could happen as early as next Friday and negotiating a compromise on $4.5 trillion in new Biden programs.

If the October 1st deadline is not met, the government could shut down, and if the debt ceiling isn’t suspended, the country could default on its debts within weeks.

House Democrats, including DeGette, voted Tuesday to suspend the debt limit and fund the government through December. But the measure faces trouble in the Senate, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has said Republicans won’t vote for it.

DeGette said Democrats have voted to suspend the debt ceiling in the past under Republican administrations and she expects Republicans to do the same.

“We can argue about the budget. We can argue about where we should be spending for next year, but we should not be playing politics with the full faith and credit of the United States,” she  said. “It's a really bad time for the Republicans to decide to shut down the government if they do it, which I hope they won't. And in the end, I think they'll come together. I don't want people to get unduly alarmed.

Meanwhile, Democrats are fighting among themselves about two key elements of Biden’s domestic agenda -- a $1 trillion infrastructure package already approved by the senate, and the president’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan, which includes climate change initiatives and social programs such as an extension of the child tax credit.

Moderate Democrats back the infrastructure plan but some aren’t ready to spend $3.5 trillion on Build Back Better. Liberals have said they won’t support the infrastructure package unless Build Back Better is approved. Biden met with lawmakers at the White House Wednesday to push them toward compromise. 

DeGette backs both bills and said she thinks there’ll be an agreement there, too. “This is just part of the way the sausage is made, this negotiation. I think all of the Democrats will ultimately come together," she said. "What you're seeing right now is just the end of the negotiations.”


Interview highlights:

On how COVID is impacting children:

DeGette chaired an oversight committee meeting Wednesday of the House Energy and Commerce committee. It’s the latest in a series of meetings she’s convened about COVID-19.

“The reason we did this most recent one focusing on kids is because kids are going back to school, and yet the Delta variant is raging … Just 42% of kids between 12 and 18 have been vaccinated. And we're hoping that the FDA will approve the vaccine for kids 5 to 12. So we wanted to explore number one, what has happened to kids during the pandemic with the virtual schooling last year. And number two, what parents can do to be assured that their kids will be safe going back to school this fall.”

The threat to children’s mental health:

“Mental health among adolescents and younger kids was at a crisis point before the pandemic and the pandemic only exacerbated that … What I'm looking at now, and I think, I believe that schools should be open. But the parents I'm hearing from want to make sure their kids will be safe in school. So what we wanted to hear was what is safe for kids going back to school? And we heard a couple of things. Number one, the kids need to get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe, it's been approved and that'll be our best, best bet. 

Secondly, the person from the Academy of Pediatrics told us there's some new studies out that show that masking in fact does work. And then the other thing we talked about is, let's say you have a kid in class that's been diagnosed with a positive for COVID. What do you do? You can't send the whole school back for quarantine for two weeks. And so there's some innovative new approaches for testing, for isolating just certain kids, and then being able to keep most kids in school. But what parents want, they want their kids to be back in school and they want them to be safe. And that's what I want too.”

On Afghan refugees:

“Over August and the first part of September we've had a number of calls from people who knew folks who were trying to get out of Afghanistan and we worked very closely with the State Department to get that information, to get it to them and to try to get them help. I just asked my staff the other day, what was going on with those cases and we haven't heard specifically about any of those cases. But we are hoping to continue the pressure to get them out.”

On Biden’s handling of the departure from Afghanistan:

“It was a chaotic situation, no doubt. Right now, I'm not focused on recrimination. What I'm focused on is trying to get any of  the remaining American citizens out of there, and also the Afghans who corroborated with us. 

And finally, I think what the United States and our allies around the world need to do is look at either carrots or sticks, sanctions or incentives to make sure that Afghan women and children are treated with respect and allowed to go to school, allowed to work. I was in Afghanistan some years ago, meeting with some of those women. And we need to try to make sure that they are taken care of. But on the other hand, we couldn't stay there indefinitely. I think we did need to. And so now we need to figure out what we can do to help protect those women and children.”


Read The Transcript


Avery Lill: Congress is split not just two but three ways over the federal budget and key elements of President Joe Biden's policy agenda. One of those fights could shut down the federal government by the end of next week. All of this while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. We're joined today by Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Denver. 

Congresswoman welcome.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver: Glad to be with you.

AL: You chaired a congressional hearing Wednesday on how the pandemic is affecting children. We'll get into that in a moment but first let's talk about some of these pressing financial issues. The House, including you, voted Tuesday to fund the government through December and to suspend the federal debt limit. Without those steps, there's a possibility government programs could shut down October 1st and the government could go into default sometime next month -- it's when a government doesn't pay all of its debt obligations. No House Republicans voted for that measure. It's now headed to the Senate where experts say it stands very little chance. Are we going to see a government shutdown and even a default?

DG: Well, I've got to say that the number one responsibility of the government is to keep the trains running on time, keep the government open and more urgently, if the debt ceiling needs to be raised, then we need to raise it. And we've done it a number of times since 2011, including with Republican support. The Republicans’ failure to support this is just a bald exercise of power by Mitch McConnell. And what's really bad about it is it impacts the U.S. full faith and credit, it impacts our financial standing around the world. And so I think in the end, I hope in the end, the Republicans will realize this is not the time to start playing politics with the debt ceiling.

Democrats voted for raising the debt ceiling a number of times when Donald Trump was president and we voted for it when the Republicans were in charge in Congress. We just think this is something that's sort of the basics of government. We can argue about the budget. We can argue about where we should be spending for next year, but we should not be playing politics with the full faith and credit of the United States.

AL: What do you think it will take for Democrats and Republicans to come to an agreement in the next week?

DG: Well, again, I think what needs to happen is that Mitch McConnell needs to come to his senses and realize that he needs to do this. And I think he'll be under great pressure from Wall Street and others to do it because as I say, it affects the economy of the United States.

AL: I understand that there are ways with some maneuvering Democrats could do this on their own without Republicans. In the end, will the party do that to avoid a shutdown?

DG: I'm not in the Senate and so I can't tell you what they'll do but I can assure you we will do everything we can to make sure that this happens, that the continuing resolution passes and that the debt ceiling is raised. But again, really everybody should come together and at least do this. We can argue about the spending and all of the other pieces of legislation, the reconciliation bill, the Build Back Better bill, but we shouldn't be arguing about this.

AL: If the government does shut down on October 1st, you mentioned that there could be implications for the country's financial standing around the world. What are some examples of what might happen in Colorado?

DG: I'm just not going to speculate about that. I'm going to do everything to make sure that we pass this. That's why I voted for it the other day and that's why I'm going to keep pressing ahead for it.

AL: And is there an increased need, an increased impetus during a pandemic for the government to not shut down? I know there have been shutdowns before, but not during a pandemic like this.

DG: Well, I mean, the government should never be shut down. And as you know, we had several shutdowns again, caused by the Republicans over the last few years. And a pandemic is a particularly bad time to do it, especially when we have the increase in the delta variant, we have the need now to continue to vaccinate Americans. We're still not where we need to go with vaccination. Only 42 percent of kids between 12 and 18 are vaccinated so we need to push that. And then of course, once the authorization comes from the FDA for the vaccine, for kids between 5 and 12, we expect that in October, then we need to work on that. So you're right. It's a really bad time for the Republicans to decide to shut down the government if they do it, which I hope they won't. And in the end, I think they'll come together. I don't want people to get unduly alarmed.

AL: And part of what's at issue here are two proposals from the Biden administration. The first is a $1 trillion infrastructure package that's already passed the Senate. The second is President Biden's Build Back Better plan. That's $3.5 trillion. First, where are you on each of those bills as they stand now?

DG: Well, I support both of the bills. And in fact, I have voted for the infrastructure bill. It's got critical improvements for roads and highways, but also public transportation (and) for building the grid out so that we can move towards renewable energy and many other priorities. But that bill really goes hand in hand with the Build Back Better bill, that's the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that you were talking about. And we expect to see both of those bills on the floor next week and I will definitely support both of them.

AL: And those bills have actually divided House Democrats. A so-called moderate group is arguing for the trillion dollar infrastructure bill, but some of them are more hesitant about the spending in the Build Back Better plan. Then there are liberals who say they won't vote for one of those bills without the other. In that dispute, tell me about how you're thinking about that.

DG: Well, so first of all, everybody, all of the Democrats in the House and in the Senate support the Build Back Better bill. They support the goals of moving towards clean energy, of expanding healthcare for Americans, of expanding Medicare so that it covers vision and dental and a lot of the provisions for kids in education. People support all of that. 

The disagreement between different folks is either the length of time these programs will be in effect or the breadth of them. And this is just part, to me, I've been in Congress a long time. This is just part of the way the sausage is made, this negotiation. I think all of the Democrats will ultimately come together on an infrastructure bill and on a budget reconciliation bill. What you're seeing right now is just the end of the negotiations. Yesterday, I spent some time talking to some leadership aides and also even some members of Congress in leadership. And they feel like even though it's a painful negotiation that it is going on and that we will come to a resolution.

AL: Is there some middle ground that could be reached on that size of the package that could get all Democrats on board? 

DG: Absolutely. It's always negotiation. That's what government is about. And unfortunately, some people don't realize that, it's all about weighing the equities and negotiating something that is acceptable to everybody. So I think that that's what we will be able to do in the end, but it's not pretty once it's going on.

AL: I'm speaking with Democratic Representative  Diana DeGette of Denver. 

When we are looking at some of these other issues the federal government has  -- the dispute is right now so bad that President Biden had a bunch of your Democratic colleagues at the White House Wednesday to try to sort it out. Does that kind of dissent within your own party tell you that maybe the President is overreaching here, trying to do too much too quickly and risking not getting anything done at all?

DG: No, I don't think so at all. I think it's just, again, part of the operation of government. And remember, the Democrats have just a three-vote majority in the House and the Senate is 50-50. And so it is a challenge to negotiate a bill that is acceptable to everybody and the challenge is made even greater by the fact that the Republicans refuse to negotiate with us. We're having to do this all just within the Democratic party.

I think your listeners should remember that in the past, the parties tried to work together on important issues facing our nation. The infrastructure bill is a good example. There are many, many infrastructure projects that impact, for example, all of Colorado, Western Colorado, Northern Colorado, roads and highways and bridges and water projects. But yet my Republican colleagues have all been instructed to vote against the bill.

I work a lot with Republicans on different legislation and one of my friends yesterday showed me the whip notice that the Republicans sent out and they basically demanded that no Republicans vote for this infrastructure package. Why? Because they want to make it difficult for Democrats. And I don't think that's really serving their constituents very well. They might disagree with us on some of the issues in Build Back Better. Some of the benefits in healthcare or some of the renewable energy provisions. I get that, but not infrastructure. But yet they just won't even talk to us. And so we're having to work this out just with Democrats. And I believe we will because we have that commitment to serving the democratic people ... I mean all, not just Democrats, but all Americans.

AL: Let's talk now about the pandemic and that hearing that you chaired Wednesday, focused on the impact it's having on kids. So many issues with the virus, why the need to hone in on that particular part of the population?

DG: So I'm the chair of the Oversight Subcommittee of Energy and Commerce. And we have jurisdiction over all of healthcare policy. I think I've had eight hearings on issues relating to the pandemic this year. And the reason we did this most recent one focusing on kids is because kids are going back to school -- and yet the Delta variant is raging. As I mentioned, just 42 percent of kids between 12 and 18 have been vaccinated, and we're hoping that the FDA will approve the vaccine for kids 5 to 12, so we wanted to explore number one, what has happened to kids during the pandemic with the virtual schooling last year. And number two, what parents can do to be assured that their kids will be safe going back to school this fall.

AL: Some of your Republican colleagues argued that the focus on keeping kids safe from the virus has been too strict, things like remote learning last year, masking requirements and quarantine in a lot of schools this year. They say steps like those are contributing to children's mental health issues and affecting their education. Where's the balance to you?

DG: Well, I agree mental health among adolescents and younger kids was at a crisis point before the pandemic and the pandemic only exacerbated that. That's why we need ... In the Build Back Better bill, we have a large chunk of money to go for mental health training for professionals, and also establishment of programs. What I'm looking at now, and I think, I believe that schools should be open. But the parents I'm hearing from want to make sure their kids will be safe in school. So what we wanted to hear was what is safe for kids going back to school? And we heard a couple of things: number one, the kids need to get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe, it's been approved and that'll be our best, best bet.

Secondly, onef person from the Academy of Pediatrics told us there's some new studies out that show that masking in fact does work. And then the other thing we talked about is, let's say you have a kid in class that's been diagnosed with a positive for COVID. What do you do? You can't send the whole school back for quarantine for two weeks. And so there's some innovative new approaches for testing, for isolating just certain kids, and then being able to keep most kids in school. But what parents want, they want their kids to be back in school and they want them to be safe. And that's what I want too.

AL: And regular testing. It's an aspect of this. If you can identify who's got the virus quickly, you can keep them from spreading, is the hope.

DG: Well that's right and you can keep them from spreading it. And then you can also make sure all the people who were around them don't test positive and spread it even more.

AL: Colorado has a new statewide program for testing in schools, but only about 20 percent of schools are participating. What can be done to improve testing?

DG: Well, the congressional delegation and Governor (Jared) Polis talk on a regular basis and we'll be talking later this week. And I think that's an excellent question to ask the governor, what can Colorado do and what can the federal government do to help Colorado get those tests out to the schools and encourage them to participate? Because I think that really will give people a much bigger peace of mind.

AL: Let's talk briefly about the situation in Afghanistan, particularly the refugees who are entering the country. Has your office dealt with a lot of people seeking to leave Afghanistan or needing help now that they're here?

DG: So yes, over August and first part of September we've had a number of calls from people who knew folks who were trying to get out of Afghanistan. And we worked very closely with the State Department to get that information, to get it to them and to try to get them help. I just asked my staff the other day what was going on with those cases and we haven't heard specifically about any of those cases but we are hoping to continue to pressure to get them out.

AL: And in just the 45 seconds that we have left, do you think that the Biden administration handled the departure from Afghanistan and the evacuation correctly?

DG: It was a chaotic situation, no doubt, and right now, I'm not focused on recrimination. What I'm focused on is trying to get any remaining American citizens out of there, and also the Afghans who corroborated with us. And finally, I think what the United States and our allies around the world need to do is look at either carrots or sticks, sanctions or incentives to make sure that Afghan women and children are treated with respect and allowed to go to school, allowed to work. I was in Afghanistan some years ago, meeting with some of those women. And we need to try to make sure that they are taken care of. But on the other hand, we couldn't stay there indefinitely. I think we did need to leave and so now we need to figure out what we can do to help protect those women and children.

AL: Representative DeGette, thank you for joining us.

DG: Great being with you.

AL: Democratic Representative, Diana DeGette has represented Denver in the US House since 1997. Up next, new developments in the elections office in Mesa County.

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