HELENA — U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Thursday he believes “we’re making a little headway” as Congress and the Obama administration try to find ways to stop the federal government shutdown and avert a fiscal default.
“You could just feel that things are starting to shift,” Baucus said. “Maybe this back and forth, each side criticizing each other, ought to stop. This is about the people we represent, not about politics.”
Baucus said his job is to keep talking to House Republicans and urge others to listen to the other side too to find solutions.
“Sit down and talk,” he said. “Look for solutions. Be practical, pragmatic. Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes.”
Baucus recalled advice from the late U.S. Senate majority leader, Mike Mansfield, D-Mont., who said, “Remember, the other person is not always wrong, and you aren’t always right. The more we remember that, the better off we all are.”
Earlier Thursday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, at Baucus’ invitation, spoke to Senate Finance Committee that the Montana senator chairs.
“He explained the consequences of default quite clearly and why we don’t want that to happen,” Baucus said.
“We’ve never seen anything like this. We’re not there yet, but we don’t want to get to that cliff.”
He said if the United States doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, the Treasury Department will be forced to pay its obligations based on cash-on-hand.
“If we get to the credit card (debt) limit, then we’re not paying our bills,” the veteran senator said. “Trust and confidence in America would be seriously questioned. ...
“There comes a point where a business or a family that’s not paying their bills, it has got to close up. We don’t want to get to that point in the United States. It’s stunning that we’re at that point.”
For more than 200 years, the United States has honored its obligations and paid its debts, he said.
“Even during the Depression we were good on our bills,” Baucus said. “We’ve never defaulted. In 1814, when the British burned down the Capitol and the White House, we paid our bills.
Baucus introduced legislation earlier this week to ensure that America won’t default on its bill when the debt limit is reached Oct. 17. It would extend the debt limit through Dec. 31, 2014, after the mid-term election.
“The full faith and credit of the United States of America is now being questioned,” he said. “If we were not to pay our bills, then bondholders and people who buy are treasuries (treasury bills) are going to question their faith in the United States.
“More directly, it would have a catastrophic effect, raising interest rates, house prices would go way up, student loans would be more expensive. Seniors would question if they receive their Social Security (checks) a couple of days late. The same with Medicare payments to hospitals and doctors. Seniors would be pitted against veterans and hospitals.”
He likened that possibility to the scenes in the post-apocalyptic novels and the movie, “The Hunger Games.”