WAMU: Today's the day the U.S. hits its debt ceiling. Over the weekend, House Speaker John Boehner said he was ready to cut a deal to extend it. What do you expect that process to look like as we move ahead?
DH: Well this is going to be a pretty dead week on that score. Yes, the government reaches its debt ceiling -- $14.3 trillion -– and technically it’s met today, but the Treasury says it has various tricks up its sleeve to keep the government solvent for 11 more weeks. And the House is out of session this week, only the Senate is in town. The president’s attention is diverted elsewhere. It’s sort of Middle East week in his life. And so it’s going to be kind of a dead week on this.
Speaker Boehner said he was willing to cut a deal yesterday, and said he’s told Obama, let’s hold hands and jump together. One of the aphorisms for those who cover Congress is that members of Congress tend to act like kids in high school, and they wait to do all the really heavy work right before the semester ends, and so I’d say this won’t happen until late-July.
WAMU: How strong is talk of allowing the country to default?
DH: There does seem to be some talk though of using the debt ceiling as essentially a hostage for the republican conservatives and some democrats too to get some deep and meaningful deficit-reduction locked in. Yes, they want to hold it as a hostage, but it seems more and more likely they are eager to find a way to at least let go of that hostage for a year, maybe a little bit less. In other words, they could just raise the debt ceiling by a trillion, instead of several trillion. The general formula is $2 trillion will get them about a year.
Members of Congress, these freshmen, these Tea Party freshmen that have the idea to let the government default have largely been talked out of this. They are looking for an excuse to change their minds. Remembering that their biggest benefactors and backers of the business community is on Wall Street, and those guys are telling them, really don’t do this. That’s not something you want to play fire with.
WAMU: Wisconsin democratic Sen. Herb Kohl says he’s retiring. How will that change the dynamic on Capitol Hill?
DH: Well, the first way it’ll change the dynamic is that it’ll put enormous pressure on the guy in the house who’s at the center of all these budget talks, Paul Ryan, who is a Wisconsin House member and who’s the author of this Medicare overhaul plan that the House has adopted that’s getting so much criticism around the country. He’s now thinking about running for that seat. He says he’ll decide this week. I guess I’ll go out on a limb and say he’d rather stay in the House than to become part of a competitive Senate race, where even he won, he’d still just be a freshmen senator. But on the macro issue, Herb Kohl’s retirement puts in play yet another seat for the republicans. The republicans only need for seats to take control of the senate in 2012. They’re on course and ahead. Scott Brown, the governor, famously said in the news in recent months, to save a bunch of money for his state by breaking government unions in his state. Republicans are really fired up, and they have a lot of good candidates even if Paul Ryan doesn’t run.