ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
As Tamara mentioned, the Senate Democrats' deficit reduction package would evenly divide spending cuts and revenue increases. But some Democrats have been calling for an 80-20 split - more taxes, less in cuts. One of the key senators in today's meeting was Senator Patty Murray of Washington state, who chairs the budget committee, and I asked her whether the new plan has the support of the whole Democratic caucus.
SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: What I proposed, along with the other members of our caucus, was to do 50-50 replacement: 50 percent revenue, 50 percent responsible spending cuts as a replacement for this year's sequestration. I am being supported by all of my caucus. Yes, of course, there are people who want all revenue, there are people who are much more conservative. But what we all believe the American public wants us to do is to be responsible, to be fair, to be balanced and to get us past this crisis to crisis moment that we seem to be living in.
SIEGEL: As you know better than I, the Republican position on taxes is not 20 percent or 50 percent of the deficit cutting package, it's zero percent.
SIEGEL: And we've heard majority leader McConnell saying that Senate Democrats know that this package cannot pass in the Senate. Do you truly believe that there are, say, 10 Republicans who'll be prepared to vote for tax increases and get this thing passed in the Senate?
MURRAY: What I know is that we did replace the first two months of the sequestration with a balanced plan that was half revenue and half spending cuts. So I do believe that Republicans, at the end of the day, will follow that same model of balanced spending and revenue to replace the sequestration. They don't want to see - I don't believe - see sequestration go into effect, which is the alternative here, that puts our economy, which is just beginning to turn the corner and turn it into a very fragile place again where families don't know if they're going to have a job, are they going to be furloughed. And just the impacts are incredible. Why would we do that?
SIEGEL: But the tax increase that you're proposing, which would bring in over $50 billion over 10 years, I guess, is the so-called Buffett rule, which would be...
MURRAY: That's correct.
SIEGEL: ...a 30 percent rate for income over $1 million a year. This was put forward last year. Republicans rejected it. I mean, what's so different this year? Why wouldn't you assume it's going to be defeated once again?
MURRAY: Because I think the American public overwhelmingly believes that in this country today that middle-class families need the ability and the stability to grow and to be confident and that having the revenue increased on the wealthiest Americans will help make them give their fair share. And in fact, what I hear people saying is why are the Republicans still insisting on protecting one small class of people, the wealthiest Americans, from participating in getting our economy back on track?
SIEGEL: On the other hand, the difference here in the level of spending cuts, you're proposing $54 billion or so in spending cuts over 10 years, the sequester would cut about $80 billion, I gather, this year alone. If the Senate can't come up with something more long range and a bigger deficit reduction package than this now when we've just come off an election, why would one think that a year from now, after this, you'd be in any better position?
MURRAY: Well, you're asking the question as if sequestration were the end of this discussion. It's, unfortunately, interjected in this discussion because of an arbitrary date of March 1st where it begins to take place. Where the real discussion is and where we really have to focus on is getting a balanced or a budget that moves towards balance out of the Senate and out of the House and come to an agreement between the two of them. That is occurring and, in fact, my budget committee will be putting a budget out of our committee by three or four - about four weeks from now. That's the real way that we get to an agreement between both Houses and get our country back to a place where we are having a balanced proposal and a solution to the challenges that we've been facing long term.
SIEGEL: Elsewhere on this program, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky says, bring on the sequester. It's actually too small a spending cut as is, but let's go for it. And Senator McConnell has said, well, I fully expect the sequester to hit. There seems to be...
MURRAY: I think that's so irresponsible today. Everybody understands that we need to have responsible spending cuts, but the sequestration does it so irresponsibly. When you're telling people that they're going to be put out of their homes because they won't have a voucher and we have more homeless people, when you're telling our airports that they're going to have to shut down their towers because we have to cut back air traffic controllers, I mean, the impacts are across the board. Every family will feel the effects of sequestration that's put in place irresponsibly.
SIEGEL: Senator Murray, thank you very much for joining us.
MURRAY: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington state and chair of the Senate Budget Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.