OTR Interviews

How President Obama, Congress Are All to Blame for the Looming Government Shutdown

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 6, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: And the breaking news continues. No one knows what is going to happen with our government. Right now, the lights are burning at the U.S. Capitol, and President Obama -- you're looking at the White House. He is back at the White House. He's there with two -- Senate leader and also the House speaker. And he left Washington earlier today, but he came back about an hour ago. And now he's got those two gentlemen inside the White House.

But the question is, should he have left today? A lot of people are critical. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer joins us. Ari, now we're burning the midnight oil at the White House. President left for a couple of hours, but any problem with that? Did he lose valuable time to negotiate this -- these two parties?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't begrudge his absence for a portion of today, I begrudge his absence for his presidency. My problem is, where has the president been on the major deficit and debt issue since he assumed office? He appointed a commission to deal with the debt, and then he really ignored the commission's recommendations. He gave a State of the Union in which he didn't really focus on the debt or the deficit in any significant way, and he did the same thing with his budget. That's the bigger problem that I have, is as if the president's priorities are just elsewhere.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, explain to me -- where do you think -- I mean, where this meeting in the White House might have some significance. There are several rooms that seem to have different significance. The president's sitting there with these two men. Any thoughts on, you know, how this sort of arm twisting -- is an attempt to get negotiation going, where they are? What's your thought?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm glad the president called the meeting. It's the right thing to do. When you get down to the very end days like this, really only the president can demonstrate the leadership, particularly with a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, to bring people together and get it done. Presidents have to put their wheels -- their shoulders to the wheel.

You know, when I went back and I looked at it, George H.W. Bush entered into a big budget agreement with a Democratic Congress in 1990. Bill Clinton did it with a Republican Congress in 1997. And George W. Bush did it in 2001 with a big budget agreement focused on tax cuts. It's Barack Obama's turn now. It's his job to get these big agreements done.

And Greta, what we're talking about here on this particular piece of legislation is the small potatoes. These are the things that begin with B's for billions. The next one are the trillions. And when we have a $1.6 trillion deficit, our nation has no choice. This is how we can have a good future for our children and create jobs. So what's at stake is tremendous. And it's odd that there's such a difference between the two parties, where one, the Republicans, say this is existential, this can take down the republic, we're going to go in the direction of Europe, and on the side of the president, I wish he would show a similar resolve. I haven't soon it yet.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I'm anxious to see if either gentleman, when he walks out of that White House -- and it could be a minute from now, two minutes from now, it could be a half hour, an hour -- we don't know what time they're going to walk out -- but I'm interested to see -- do you expect Speaker Boehner or Senator Harry Reid to come out and make a statement, or do you think the three of them will decide to, you know, keep it quiet for the night?

FLEISCHER: No, I think they'll come out and make a statement. At a time like this and when it's getting down to the end wire, you almost have to make a statement. And it's hard to leave the White House except by a couple back doors without making a statement. The press is watching.

It's good that they're meeting. It's better this meeting's taking place than it's not taking place. I think that the Republicans have a wise plan B, which is going to be to fund the military for the year and continue to press for more and more cuts so the government will not shut down. It shouldn't shut down. No one will gain if it does. But we'll all lose if we don't finally tackle this deficit and the debt.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, do you not agree that -- I mean, whatever side of the dispute you're on, is that the Republicans in the House have sort of checkmated the Senate. If they have to go to the floor -- if they get a continuing resolution tomorrow that they send over to the House which does two things, it cuts the budget $12 billion...

FLEISCHER: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... but for two weeks, but also funds the troops until September 30th, so that if the Senate doesn't embrace it, they look like they don't want to pay for the troops who are fighting two wars.

FLEISCHER: And it keeps the government open. I think it'd be almost impossible for President Obama in good conscience to veto legislation like that. How could he? So that's why I say it's a smart plan B. But we don't -- this fiscal year that we're talking about began on October 1st, 2010, a month before the mid-term elections! That's how old this business is.

And this is where the president has just got to broker the deal, which is what presidents do, forge the agreement, focus on the big picture, bring the parties together. Presidents are uniquely qualified to do that when there's such divisiveness and partisanship.

You know, this is the first time in our country's history we've had a Republican House with a Democrat Senate and a Democrat president. That has never happened in America's history before. You need a president to break these impasses.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, thank you. And of course, remind the viewers we're watching the White House. That meeting's going on right now and we're waiting to see if Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid come out of it when it ends with the president. Could be any minute. And of course, we're watching that.

In the meantime, this shutdown will have grave consequences for many Americans. The deadline -- well, it is no surprise. You knew it was coming...

FLEISCHER: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... And so did all of Congress know it was coming. So if all of Congress knew this shutdown deadline was coming, why did Congress just take a week off? Congress recently returned from spring break, wasting a lot of valuable time, some may say.

Congressman Michael Grimm joins us. Good evening, sir. Don't you like the fact that you get to answer the question why you went on spring break? Although many members would say it was constituent service.

REP. MICHAEL GRIMM, R-N.Y.: It certainly was. I mean, it was certainly no break for me. And I can tell you the rest of my colleagues -- we work more when we're back with our constituents than ever. And let me tell you why it's so important. There's so much uncertainty right now with what's going on. People are afraid. They want to know what happens when there's a government shutdown because there's been so much...

VAN SUSTEREN: But why do you all...

GRIMM: ... so many mixed messages...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... take a week off? I mean, like, this deadline has been coming! I mean, the Democrats didn't pass a budget last year. You guys have had -- had the House -- you've had the House now since January. And you take a week off. And we knew the deadline was coming. The troops don't know if they're getting paid. We don't know if we're getting tax returns. And I -- and it's constituent service. I mean, really?

GRIMM: A hundred percent. I mean...

VAN SUSTEREN: You think that's better than working on the budget?

GRIMM: Well, no. I think that we put HR-1 forward twice. We passed it. It's now for the Senate to move. I mean, the reality is that we have control of the House, we don't have control of the Senate.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you did your work.

GRIMM: Well, it's not -- the work is not done, but part of that work is dealing with our constituents and making sure they understand what's going on. And going back home where our constituents are is extremely important. You know why? Because it's the people of this country, the American citizens, that matter. This is what we're fighting for. And to be able to go back and discuss with them what's on their minds and how difficult it is that they can't pay their bills, they're losing their houses because they can't pay their mortgage...

VAN SUSTEREN: I...

GRIMM: ... and they're worried about their children's future. And they say to me, Michael, please, we trust you. You're a Marine. You can stand up. Cut the spending. That's what we're hearing. So believe me, it's no vacation to go back and hear these -- these pleas.

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess -- I mean, I realize HR-1 was passed, but the budget -- there still was no budget. That's the problem. And I realize ... still waiting for the number from the Senate, whatever number the Senate gets. But it is -- I think it is deeply disturbing to the American people, and you're new so I can't blame you for that for more than a year, as Ari noted, there's been no budget and this deadline has been out there. And it's sort of been -- you know, it's been two weeks, two weeks, two weeks -- Secretary Geithner -- Secretary of the Treasury Geithner's complaining that he's funding the government every two weeks, and I'm thinking, like, you know, Listen, buddy, you know, you're part of the -- you're part of the government!

GRIMM: Well, that's the travesty here. The travesty here is that the Democrats had the House, the Senate and the presidency but failed to pass a budget. The only reason we're here dealing with this CR is because of that abdication of leadership. That to me is a travesty. Now, when we put forward $61 billion, with the amount of debt that this country has, is more than reasonable. It's more than fair. And yet they still refuse to act!

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you getting -- are you getting criticized for that $61 billion because it is, in the grand scheme of things -- I mean, it's a huge amount of money. Don't get me wrong. And I know that you're getting resistance from them. But in the grand scheme of things, it's less than 2 percent!

GRIMM: That's exactly my point. In the grand -- compared to the deficits that we're running year after year -- and when you compare that to the amount of spending that has increased in the Obama administration, it is a drop in the bucket. The real fight -- in my opinion, what the Democrats are doing here is doing nothing more than a smokescreen. They want to focus on a shutdown of the government because they don't want the people to talk about the new budget that just came out. Three months into this, the Republicans, with their leadership of Paul Ryan, put forward a plan to actually get our country back on track. That's what we should be talking about. You know what the Democrats want to do? More debt, more doubt and more despair!

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you know who's going to get the cuts? If you got your $61 billion, who's going to -- who's going to take the hit?

GRIMM: Well, I think it's going to be shared across America. And I think that the people of the United States understand that there's going to be shared pain. This is an American problem, it's not a Republican or a Democratic problem. Over the last -- over decades, we have spent too much money. The problem here is not that Americans are taxed too little, it's that Washington spends too much, and Washington needs to cut back.

VAN SUSTEREN: If were you advising President Obama tonight, what would you tell him?

GRIMM: I would tell him to stand up and lead, and that's something that I don't think he has done.

VAN SUSTEREN: (INAUDIBLE) doing?

GRIMM: I don't think he has lead at all. I think the fact that we don't have a budget in the first place from last year proves that he didn't lead. The fact that he put the budget plan that he just proposed for fiscal year 2012 -- increases spending, increases debt...

VAN SUSTEREN: In all fairness, I mean, the Republican administration before him really spent. This administration really spends. Now, you're a freshman, so I mean, I'm not going to stick you with either one of those. But it's not like this is the first administration ever to spend.

GRIMM: Fair enough. Not at all. But look at the difference in the percentage. I mean, this administration has spent records amount of money. And I am not -- there's no question that Republicans lost their way and spent too much money, too. That's the reason I'm here. It's part of this new Congress. Both parties, there's enough to -- there's enough blame to go around.

But now each party, everyone you speak to realizes we have a financial crisis, and we need to step up and answer the call. This president has not done that. This president needs to tell Harry Reid to get serious about spending and let's get on with the CR because the real thing that matters to the American people is the budget. We go from billions to trillions, from pennies to dollars. We need to do that. We need to get -- we need to get serious.

VAN SUSTEREN: We have 10 seconds left. Is the government going to shut down, do you think? If you're a betting man?

GRIMM: If I'm a betting man, no because I believe at the end of the day, that reasonableness will come to the forefront.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you typically an optimist?

GRIMM: I am.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: That may explain part of it! Anyway, Congressman, thank you. Nice to see you, sir.

GRIMM: Thank you. It's always good to see you.