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No One Wants The Government To Shut Down, Rep. Khanna Says


Let's talk about the various deadlines lawmakers face with Democratic Representative Ro Khanna of California and a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Congressman, welcome.

RO KHANNA: Thank you for having me.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. First, let's talk about today's most urgent deadline. As Kelsey mentioned, the federal government will shut down if Congress doesn't pass a funding bill before midnight. Will Congress get this done?

KHANNA: Yes, I am confident that we will get it done. There is consensus we will at least extended until December. We may then have to extend it again. But no one on the Democratic side wants the government to shut down.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So you're confident that's going to get taken care of and out of the way. So the other deadline you face in the House - that is the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill - if that vote moves forward - and that's an if at this point - are you and other progressives prepared to block the infrastructure bill from passing?

KHANNA: There would be at least 60 Democrats who vote no, including me. This is not just progressives but many Democrats who are frustrated that we have had no agreement despite the desire to compromise on the president's larger agenda - on his climate provisions, on his child care provisions, on his provisions to help seniors with dental and hearing and on provisions to make community college affordable.

MARTÍNEZ: But by doing that, by blocking the infrastructure bill, aren't you, in a way, tanking President Biden's overall agenda and the promises that he's made?

KHANNA: There's only one person tanking it, and that's Kyrsten Sinema. Ninety-nine percent of Democrats are on board, even in the House, on a compromise number. Now, it may not be 3.5 trillion. But everyone is on board. I even believe Senator Manchin will get on board. The president has repeatedly asked Senator Sinema, give us a number; tell us what you're for. Senator Durbin has been asking her. Senator Schumer has been asking her. As soon as she moves, everything will take place. But literally one person is holding up the entire president's agenda.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. You've put a lot of the focus on Sinema, saying, it's insane that one senator is blocking it. Yet you say that you feel that Joe Manchin has always been reasonable and at the end of the day that he'll always do what's needed for the party. What makes you think that because he also hasn't really moved either?

KHANNA: In the past, he voted for the CARES Act. He came up with the Voting Rights Act. He's had a history of always casting votes at the end with Democrats on key issues. And I believe if he were the last person, the president could prevail on him. The president has a very good relationship with him. He's also, unlike Senator Sinema, been candid. He's accessible to the press. Senator Sinema refuses to do any interviews. Senator Manchin meets with members of Congress regularly. Senator Sinema refuses. Senator Manchin has been very clear about his concerns. I disagree with him on some things, respectfully. But you know exactly where he's coming from.

MARTÍNEZ: So if Sinema is a mystery, then what about Manchin makes you think that he would get on board?

KHANNA: The 3.5-trillion-dollar number is too high. And he wants to see that number go down. And as progressives, we have said that there are ways that we are willing to compromise on the number. For example, you could frontload the benefits but reduce the number of years. Some of the programs right now are funded for eight years, 10 years. You could reduce that to four years, five years. That would significantly bring down the costs of the package. And you could pay for it by repealing a lot of the Trump tax cuts, which Manchin himself has said explicitly he's for. So there are the contours of what an agreement with Manchin could look like.

With Sinema, you just don't have any sense. She has said that - it - some reports that she's opposed to any tax increases, even repealing any parts of the Trump tax cut. She said she's opposed to Medicare negotiating, which is a huge part of the revenue. So you have no sense of how she plans to get the revenue. You have no sense of what she wants in there, what she's not for, and that's what makes it so difficult.

MARTÍNEZ: The Democratic Party has the White House, majorities in Congress, thin as they may be. But passing legislation that Democrats support is a huge battle, apparently, and not just because of Republican opposition but in this case because of divisions within your own party. Congressman, why are Democrats still divided on a legislative agenda that the party and the voters seem to largely support?

KHANNA: I actually genuinely don't think we are divided in the House. There's consensus we could come to a number. And in the Senate, absent, again, one senator, we could come to consensus. Now, I agree that we have a huge obligation to get that one senator on board. And it's taking the efforts of the president. I mean, the president sent his entire senior staff to Senator Sinema's office - Susan Rice, Steve Ricchetti, his entire legislative team. She's been in the Oval Office multiple times every day in the last few days. And the president is trying. The speaker is trying. The Senate majority leader is trying. I am confident at the end of the day they will prevail. I am doubtful it will be today. And so my sense is it's going to take more time.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you think, though, that if the budget bill does not pass and divisions within the party this year could cost you next year during the midterm elections - are you worried about that?

KHANNA: I am worried that if we end up not having the agenda the president campaigned on, then yes, it will hurt us in the midterms, and it will hurt our ability to deliver on what we promised. So I - that is why I am confident ultimately we will get it done.

MARTÍNEZ: Congressman Ro Khanna of California, thank you very much.

KHANNA: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.