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Tea Party Patriots: Don't Raise Debt Ceiling

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. As we speak, there is still no agreement on raising federal debt ceiling, putting the country closer to default. With the deadline just days away, neither the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner nor the Democratic leader of the Senate Harry Reid has won enough support for a spending plan that both sides can support. Here's Speaker Boehner talking yesterday about the impasse.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER: Our solution was put together by the bipartisan leaders here in Congress. There is no reason for them to say no. It's time for somebody in this town to say yes. We've said yes on a budget. We've said yes on a plan last week. Now we're saying yes again this week on a plan. When is somebody on the other side of the aisle going to take yes for an answer?

MARTIN: A failure to come to an agreement could lead to a historic default on the $14.3 trillion in national debt. In a moment we will speak with Representative Emanuel Cleaver, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and our own Marilyn Geewax, NPR's senior business editor. We'll also be speaking with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network. But first, we have a view from a member of the Tea Party movement, which has played such an important role in setting the tone of these negotiations.

A number of Congressional Republicans who were backed by the Tea Party in the last election have openly opposed Republican Speaker Boehner's spending plan. That's a proposal that seeks to raise the U.S. borrowing limit in two steps, requiring Congress to confront the debt ceiling again in six months, but many Tea Party lawmakers are calling for more and deeper cuts now, and some say they will not support any plan that raises the debt ceiling. To get more on that perspective, we've reached out once again to Shelby Blakely.

She's the citizen journalist coordinator for the national group Tea Party Patriots and she's with us once again from Georgia Public Broadcasting. Welcome back, thanks for joining us once again.

SHELBY BLAKELY: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Shelby, of course it's worth mentioning that the Tea Party isn't one group. There's no national leadership, but there is a Tea Party caucus in Congress, and of course many Tea Party members obviously share similar perspectives. A key one of them is a very strong commitment to fiscal conservatism, and some people are saying they're against raising the debt limit at all. Is that your perspective?

BLAKELY: That is the reflection of the intensive internal polling and surveying we have done of Tea Party Patriots membership and local coordinators.

MARTIN: Do you not think that a default is a big deal?

BLAKELY: I don't think that default needs to be necessary. We take in enough money, we take in $220 billion a month. We need $11 billion of that to pay the servicing fees on the debt. That leaves over $200 hundred billion left over to pay monthly bills.

MARTIN: So what would you do? What's your solution or what's the solution of the people that you're talking to?

BLAKELY: The solution of the people of the Tea Party Patriots is to not raise the debt ceiling, because if there's one thing Washington has proven is that they don't need any more money - they've already used $14 trillion of it - and to start looking to see what we can cut. What departments are redundant? What programs are duplicitous? What can we shut down? What regulations have been overbearing and do not need to be enforced...

MARTIN: You really think you can do all that by Tuesday? You can shut down departments and save enough money to - by Tuesday?

BLAKELY: I think by prioritizing our spending we don't need to default. If we default, it is because the Obama administration and Timothy Geithner have intentionally decided not to pay that particular bill. One of the things we could do immediately is stop the implementation of Obamacare. That's going to save quite a bit of money.

MARTIN: By Tuesday? By Tuesday?

BLAKELY: By Tuesday? It is not the fault of the citizens of America and of the Tea Party that politicians have been kicking this can down the road for 40 years.

MARTIN: But you know, Shelby, just to draw an analogy - if you needed to lose weight - and I'm not saying you do but if you needed to lose weight, you wouldn't just say stop eating. That would make you sick. Why isn't the same the truth of - why isn't the same thing true of the economy? You can't just stop eating...

BLAKELY: Because the economy is not and should not be dependent on the federal government spending to live. Federal government spending is not the entire body of economic activity, and when you do decide that you need to stop eating as much, the government spending needs to be the first to go.

MARTIN: Shelby, what do you say to people who don't agree with you? The latest polling that we've seen shows that about half of the country agrees with you and about half does not. So what do you say to the half of the country, if the polling is accurate, that does not agree with you? Just as conservatives say that they feel that the government is spending too much of their money, people who have the other perspective say that they feel you're playing games with their money.

What do you say to them? What would be your message to those people?

BLAKELY: Well, the first thing I say is we're not playing games with your money. We're playing games with your children's money and your grandchildren's money, because that is the amount of debt that we are in and that's how long it's going to take to pay off. The other thing I would say is I would be hard pressed to believe that half of the people in this country believe that government isn't big enough, and...

MARTIN: That's not really the question on the table. I do credit your point, but the question on the table immediately is, should Congress or should Congress not raise the federal debt ceiling? And then, of course, the further question is how should that be done. You've heard the president say over and over again that he believes in a balanced approach, that people who are very well advantaged have benefited disproportionately from a number of policies in recent years and that they should pay more disproportionately and that there also ought to be some spending cuts.

That's his argument. So I guess the question I have is for those people who have that perspective who are also citizens, what will you say to them?

BLAKELY: Well, I think it's kind of an interesting phrase that President Obama uses when he calls it a balanced approach. When he says balanced, what he means is we need to raise taxes and cut spending, but America by and large agrees that the federal government does not suffer from a funding problem. It's not a revenue problem. It's a spending problem. And America is going to - is going to be - we understand it's going to be hard. The numbers I've been looking at says that between 60 and 70 percent of Americans do not want the debt ceiling raised.

MARTIN: And that's about a month ago. I understand your point, Shelby, but that's a month ago's polling. This is - we're talking about today and the figures I have come from CBS News with their latest poll so, that's this - this week.

BLAKELY: I haven't seen those polls yet, so I wouldn't be able to comment on that but...

MARTIN: I gotcha. Let me just ask you one more question before I let you go. The president, the Treasury secretary, leaders in both parties, global financial leaders like Christine Legarde, the new managing director of the International Monetary Fund, are all warning of catastrophic consequences if the debt ceiling is not raised by Tuesday. Do you just not believe them?

BLAKELY: I believe that these are the same people who have been kicking the can down the road for several years and I don't believe them. I think it's in their best interest to get more money to play with.

MARTIN: And finally, Shelby, can I just ask you this without - in a respectful way? The question I think some would ask is, how do you match your qualifications against theirs? And I appreciate that motherhood(ph) does play a role in decisions and motherhood has merit, but for those who've been studying this question and thinking about this for years, how do you match your assessment against theirs?

BLAKELY: I go ahead and lean on common sense. We are - if you sliced eight zero's off of all of the figures everyone's playing with and turned it into a family budget - the Jones family, for instance - the Jones family has a 21 - makes $21,700 a year. They are currently spending $38,700 a year, close to it. The amount of money they've put on the credit card this year is $16,745.

MARTIN: So they should just not pay those bills? They shouldn't pay their credit cards?

BLAKELY: I think we need to take - I think the government needs to do the same thing that every single American family has to do. They need to take a look at their budget and see what they can do without.

MARTIN: All right. Shelby Blakely is a citizen journalist coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots. She was with us once again from member station Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Shelby, thanks so much for joining us. Keep in touch.

BLAKELY: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.