MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
I'm joined now by Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. He's also House deputy whip, one of those who counts and cajoles fellow Republicans ahead of a vote. Congressman Cole, welcome to the program.
REPRESENTATIVE TOM COLE: It's great to be with you.
BLOCK: Let's assume that there is an agreement coming from the Senate, a bipartisan deal hammered out by Senators Reid and McConnell and then it comes to the House and Speaker Boehner has a choice, right? Does he bring that to the House floor for a vote and allow it to pass with Democratic votes plus presumably a small number of Republicans? Will he do it?
COLE: Well, a lot depends on what's in the package and that it's early to say. I think the sequester cuts, which evidently Senator Reid is trying to get out are probably nonnegotiable from a Republican standpoint. They could be negotiated within the context of a larger deal, but I think surrendering them before you've reached that deal is probably going to be a pretty tough sell to the conference.
On the other...
BLOCK: You're talking about the spending caps that were put in place under sequestration. The Democrats want to relax those in the coming year.
COLE: Well, actually, Republicans want to relax them as well, but they want to do it by them getting savings on the nondiscretionary side of the budget and that takes you into discussion over entitlements where, I think, everybody acknowledges that's the real driver of the debt. Recently, a CBO report said if we don't deal with those things, we really will go bankrupt and right now, there's just not much appetite to do it.
I think Republicans in the House are willing to cast some really tough votes and we need the president and Democrats in the Senate to come along.
BLOCK: So you're saying that if that relaxation of the spending cuts is part of a package to lift the debt limit, you're saying that's nonnegotiable for you?
COLE: Well, no, I'm saying that actually as long as the spending relaxations are balanced off with entitlement savings, that's doable. But I don't think you surrender those at this stage. Look, I could vote for a clean debt ceiling increase. That's already been offered by the Republican House Conference and frankly, I could vote for short term continuing resolution and a short term debt ceiling as long as it was, you know, a period of six, eight weeks and we moved into negotiations on these broader issues.
But I don't think you're going to get very many Republicans to surrender cuts that they've already won before those cuts are offset with cuts from the entitlement side.
BLOCK: Congressman Cole, this summer you said that it would be suicidal, that was your word, to shut down the government in an effort to defund Obamacare, yet that is exactly what's happened here. Has the Republican Party dealt itself a fatal blow, do you think?
COLE: Well, not a fatal blow, but I think a serious one. I don't think shutting down the government is ever an appropriate political tactic and my view on that hasn't changed. And frankly, I think the polling indicates it was broadly correct. And honestly, while Obamacare will be part of a larger negotiation on the budget, I don't think in and of itself you're likely to defund or repeal it, even once we go into negotiations.
So I think while we can make some changes, you got to recognize we don't control the Senate. We don't control the presidency and so while we can bargain, we can't dictate. And in my view, the people that have advocated that, you know, have lead us into a blind alley so to speak and that's part of the problem we're dealing with now is getting everybody extracted from that and back at the negotiating table where they belong.
BLOCK: What are you hearing from the folks back home in Oklahoma?
COLE: Well, they're frustrated. On the other hand, you know, most of them, honestly, don't want the debt ceiling raised. I think they don't really understand, in some cases, what the consequences of that are. They don't understand it's to pay for ongoing obligations. It's not about new debt. Second, I think they're pretty frustrated at the president.
You know, they see - they don't like Obamacare. This unwillingness to negotiate on any of it at all, that causes them some problems, but I think they're just frustrated at Washington in general. You know, they say, you know, I can't understand why people can't sit down at a table without preconditions, which, by the way, is what Speaker Boehner has argued for, and sit and negotiate a larger deal.
And so the frustration's high, but, you know, again, they don't have high expectations of Washington and, sadly, once again, they've been proven to be correct.
BLOCK: That's Congressman Tom Cole, a Republican of Oklahoma. Congressman, thank you.
COLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.