STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
You heard the reference there to Vice President Biden, who's supposed come out with gun recommendations this week. Let's talk about that and more with Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays.
Cokie, good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Any chance of real change here?
ROBERTS: It's going to be very, very tough. Vice President Biden meets today with House members. And what we're hearing over the weekend, lots of people just digging in and very, very familiar arguments. The pro-gun groups have gotten some support from reports of people buying guns and signing up with the National Rifle Association in large numbers since the Newtown tragedy, so they're pretty confident that there will be no assault weapons ban passed by this Congress.
Maybe a national background check, maybe a ban on those magazines that deliver huge numbers of bullets, but even those things seem very difficult to get to. You heard former Congressman Tiahrt just talking about a big package taking on the media, mental health questions. If that really happened, if there really were a move to do something about the mental health treatment situation in this country, that would be huge, but I'm not holding my breath.
INSKEEP: Well, then there's the question whether Congress will even have time for this. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, has been warning that every issue other than the national debt is going to be secondary in this Congress. We have a battle over the debt ceiling looming again and at least one of the supposed ideas to get rid of that problem is off the table.
ROBERTS: Well, this is the craziest idea for a trillion dollar coin and the fact that it even gained some, excuse me, currency was really just...
INSKEEP: She's here all week, go on.
ROBERTS: ...shows you how we are off on this. The Treasury, over the weekend, did say that they were not going to mint such a coin. Some Democrats are calling on the president to invoke the 14th Amendment saying, you know, the United States will pay its debts. Look, the whole point about not going into default is to convince people that the United States stands by its credit and all of these ideas don't exactly inspire confidence in the people.
So the president is saying, yes, Congress has to do this. You can't do something sketchy. There are new reports that we will hit the debt ceiling by mid-February. Republicans in the house are now talking about a shutdown of government or a default against those spending cuts.
INSKEEP: Okay. Well, how did this threat to not pay the bills become so prominent? Because the debt ceiling has been around for decades, it's been complained about for decades, but until 2011, it was just raised.
ROBERTS: No, that's not true. That's not true.
INSKEEP: All right, yes, raised after much, much complaint. Go on.
ROBERTS: Much complaint. I mean, in the last year of Carter's presidency, all 154 Republicans voted no and then the next year with Ronald Reagan as president they voted 150 to 36 in favor of an increase and the Democrats have played exactly the same game. In 2004, with George W. Bush as president, House Democrats voted unanimously against raising the debt ceiling. In 2006, so did Mr. Obama and all the other Senate Democrats.
Now the president says that that was a political vote. No kidding. That is, in fact, the vote that others are taking now and, of course, he's railing under it. But this has been a tough one, always. The only difference now is everything is more partisan and everything is more polarized so it just makes everything harder.
INSKEEP: Well, this is my question, Cokie Roberts, there were these games, as you called them, but in the end it seemed it was accepted that it would be raised. Has it ceased to be a game? Are they not playing a game now?
ROBERTS: Well, the president says he's not going to negotiate, so he says he's not going to play the game. Republicans are saying, you know, then they are going to absolutely demand the spending cuts so they are saying they're not going to play a game. But, I mean, you can call it what you want to call it. It's going to have to happen that the debt ceiling goes up, otherwise the United States can't pay its bills.
INSKEEP: Cokie, thanks very much. That's Cokie Roberts who joins us most Monday mornings with analysis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.