NBC's 'Today' Touts 'Big Setback' for Boehner Plan, Lauer Lobs Softballs to Dick Durbin

At the top of Wednesday's NBC Today, as co-host Ann Curry declared that "Americans are just fed up with the stalemate" over the debt ceiling, fellow co-host Matt Lauer announced: "The latest setback came last night when House Speaker Boehner was told by the Congressional Budget Office that his proposal would cut spending far less than advertised."

In the report that followed, correspondent Kelly O'Donnell noted: "Speaker Boehner's team is going back to work to find more cuts, just as the public is so increasingly frustrated." O'Donnell went on to reiterate "a big setback" for the plan as "The Congressional Budget Office did the math and found the Boehner plan came up short on spending cuts."

O'Donnell continued to pile on criticism of the plan: "More trouble came from an agency that rates the country's credit. Appearing on CNBC Tuesday night, Standard & Poor's was critical of the Boehner plan's two stages for raising the debt limit."

She portrayed Democrats as pushing for a deal: "The White House urged Congress to take the deadline seriously....Senate Democrats have their own plan in the wings, predicting Boehner's will fail." O'Donnell ignored the fact that the Reid plan had little chance of passing either.

Following O'Donnell's one-sided report, Lauer interviewed Senator Dick Durbin, allowing the Illinois Democrat to thoroughly bash the Boehner plan unchallenged. Lauer began with this softball: "You've seen all the plans, you've seen the counter proposals. Is there anything on paper, on the table, or on the horizon right now, Senator, that you think stands a chance of being passed in time?"

Durbin took his first shot at the Speaker: "By yesterday, his plan had been rejected by the ratings agencies and even by his own caucus....We've got to understand that we can show a lot of bravery and bluff when we're playing with other people's chips."

Lauer wondered if changes could be made to the Boehner proposal to make it more likely to pass, Durbin continued to attack: "I can tell you that what we're facing here is a Republican caucus that is basically showing its political bravery by giving up Medicare benefits for elderly people, by increasing the cost of student loans for working families, by cutting money for medical research."

The most critical question from Lauer was when he speculated President Obama's threat to veto the Boehner plan may just be "political posturing." Durbin quickly turned the question around and focused on the GOP: "Speaker Boehner has to realize that this is more than the cheers of his caucus that he's looking for. We've got to lead a nation and put some of these party considerations aside."

Lauer followed up by noting public anger: "...the American people are fed up. After dueling speeches on Monday night where the President pointed a finger of blame at the Republicans and the Speaker of the House pointed a finger of blame at the President." But rather that holding Durbin and fellow Democrats to account for that anger, Lauer simply asked: "What are you personally hearing in your office from your constituents on this matter?"

Again, Durbing used the opportunity to hit Boehner: "...what I'm appealing to Speaker Boehner to do is to set aside some of the partisan differences. Both sides have to come together, both sides have to be willing to give. But this idea of my way or the highway, the old cliche, it just doesn't work when we've got the American economy at stake."

Wrapping up the segment, Lauer gave Durbin an opportunity to appear above the fray, observing: "Don't the American people deserve better than this?" Durbin replied: "Absolutely, Matt. They look at Congress and they say, 'This is so dysfunctional, if you can't get it together and reach an agreement like grown-ups, for goodness sakes, we may need another team on the field.'"    


Here is a full transcript of the July 27 segment:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

MATT LAUER: Angry in America. Frustrated voters jam internet and phone lines to Congress where lawmakers can't seem to reach agreement on the debt ceiling debate. This as House Speaker John Boehner abruptly postpones a vote on his own plan. We'll go live to Capitol Hill.

7:01AM ET TEASE:

ANN CURRY: As next Tuesday's deadline gets closer, it seems the anger is getting louder among many citizens. Americans are just fed up with the stalemate.

LAUER: And they're letting people in Washington know about it. The latest setback came last night when House Speaker Boehner was told by the Congressional Budget Office that his proposal would cut spending far less than advertised. Now, that fact drew instant criticism from both parties. We're going to get the latest from Washington and we'll speak to one senator who has been in all the meetings so far. We'll talk to him straight ahead.

7:02AM ET TEASE:

LAUER: We want to begin on this Wednesday morning, though, with the growing frustration over the inability of lawmakers to reach a deal on raising the debt ceiling. Kelly O'Donnell is on Capitol Hill. Kelly, good morning.

KELLY O'DONNELL: Good morning, Matt. You know, time was already a problem. And now this unexpected setback for Speaker Boehner and his plan to raise the debt limit and reduce the debt. The number crunchers from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office say the math just didn't add up, the savings were not as great. So Speaker Boehner's team is going back to work to find more cuts, just as the public is so increasingly frustrated.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: 6 Days and Counting; House Vote Delayed by Problems With GOP Debt Bill]

O'DONNELL: That ringing heard across the Capitol...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Good afternoon, Speaker Boehner's office, how may I help you?

O'DONNELL: ...is the sound of frustration.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B: Good afternoon, Senator Durbin's office. How may I help you?

O'DONNELL: Constituents stuck on hold.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The average wait time is about 60 minutes.

O'DONNELL: While Congress is just stuck. Unable to forge a deal to prevent the country's first ever default. A defining issue for Republicans has been this promise.

JOHN BOEHNER: There's more cuts in spending then you have an increase in the debt limit.

O'DONNELL: But then a big setback Tuesday night. The Congressional Budget Office did the math and found the Boehner plan came up short on spending cuts. $150 billion less than expected. Speaker Boehner responded, 'This is what can happen when you have an actual plan and submit it for independent review – which the Democrats who run Washington have refused to do.'

A real hurdle, House Republicans stayed late and top aides went in search of deeper cuts, the vote delayed. More trouble came from an agency that rates the country's credit. Appearing on CNBC Tuesday night, Standard & Poor's was critical of the Boehner plan's two stages for raising the debt limit.

DAVID BEERS [STANDARD & POOR'S]: We would be concerned if we thought that the debt ceiling debate would come back and be opened and we'd have to go through all this again and again and again.

LARRY KUDLOW: And that would be a negative, in your view?

BEERS: That would be a negative, in our view.

O'DONNELL: The White House urged Congress to take the deadline seriously.

JAY CARNEY: But it is whistling past the graveyard to suggest that this is some sort of game and we're not serious. And that the risks aren't enormous, because they are.

O'DONNELL: Senate Democrats have their own plan in the wings, predicting Boehner's will fail.

HARRY REID: It's dead on arrival in Senate, if they get it out of the House.

O'DONNELL: Boehner is backed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who also said he'd give some more to get a deal that can pass.

MITCH MCCONNELL: I'm prepared to accept something less than perfect because perfect is not achievable.

O'DONNELL: And that's the dilemma. What to do in so little time left. So behind the scenes, negotiations between the Senate and the House continue and Speaker Boehner and his team are trying to figure out when they can get a vote. The best guess we have right now is instead of tonight, it'll be sometime tomorrow. But we've seen all through this process deadlines seem to slip. Matt.

LAUER: Alright, Kelly O'Donnell on Capitol Hill this morning. Kelly, thank you very much. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is the Assistant Senate Majority Leader, he's played an active role in these negotiations over the past few weeks. Senator, good to see you, good morning.

DICK DURBIN: Thanks, Matt, good to be with you.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: 6 Days and Counting; Will Congress Reach a Debt Deal to Avoid Default?]

LAUER: You've seen all the plans, you've seen the counter proposals. Is there anything on paper, on the table, or on the horizon right now, Senator, that you think stands a chance of being passed in time?

DURBIN: Yes, I think we're going to solve this, but I can tell you we learned a bitter lesson. On Monday night, Speaker Boehner came to the American people and said, 'I have a plan to get us through a crisis and avoid the first default ever on the debt of the United States of America.' By yesterday, his plan had been rejected by the ratings agencies and even by his own caucus, up to 100 Republican members said they wouldn't support it.

We have to get back to basics here. We've got to understand that we can show a lot of bravery and bluff when we're playing with other people's chips. What's at stake here is a very weak economy. We've got to be careful that we don't fault into default, raising interest rates and killing jobs across America.

LAUER: Right, but John Boehner's going to go back to the drawing board along with some of his colleagues. They're going to look for deeper cuts in that two-step plan and they're going to come back and try and vote on that perhaps tomorrow. Do you think it will have wide spread support with the additional $150 billion in cuts?

DURBIN: No, I don't. I can tell you that what we're facing here is a Republican caucus that is basically showing its political bravery by giving up Medicare benefits for elderly people, by increasing the cost of student loans for working families, by cutting money for medical research. There comes a point where we've got to stand up and say this country is in a weak position, we need to create jobs, we need to come together with sensible spending cuts. I worked with this Gang of Six, a bipartisan effort to put everything, underline everything, on the table. It's the only sensible way to deal with the deficit.

LAUER: Obviously, the President has said if the Boehner plan ever even gets to his desk, he signaled that he would veto it. Would you advise him to do that or is that political posturing?

DURBIN: I can tell you what the President's reflecting. We are told by the rating agencies that you quoted at the beginning hour that if we don't do something serious and meaningful, if we don't address, not only the debt ceiling, but our debt, that we're going to see America's credit rating reduced and the interest rates go up. The President doesn't want that to happen. That's a job killer. Speaker Boehner has to realize that this is more than the cheers of his caucus that he's looking for. We've got to lead a nation and put some of these party considerations aside.

LAUER: There are a lot of things that are unclear right now, Senator, but one thing that seems to be crystal clear is that the American people are fed up. After dueling speeches on Monday night where the President pointed a finger of blame at the Republicans and the Speaker of the House pointed a finger of blame at the President. The phone lines lit up in Washington, tweets were sent to senators, e-mails, things like that. What are you personally hearing in your office from your constituents on this matter?

DURBIN: I've been through this many, many times. And I can tell you that both sides can generate a lot of telephone calls, a lot of e-mails and a lot of messages. But at the end of the day, when you face your vote and your decision, you've got to decide what is best for this country.

And what I'm appealing to Speaker Boehner to do is to set aside some of the partisan differences. Both sides have to come together, both sides have to be willing to give. But this idea of my way or the highway, the old cliche, it just doesn't work when we've got the American economy at stake.

LAUER: And real quickly, though, and this is not a quick answer, I'm sure, but, I mean, don't the American people deserve better than this? I mean-

DURBIN: They do.

LAUER: Than the process that we're unfortunately seeing exposed right now?

DURBIN: Absolutely, Matt. They look at Congress and they say, 'This is so dysfunctional, if you can't get it together and reach an agreement like grown-ups, for goodness sakes, we may need another team on the field.'

LAUER: Alright, Senator Dick Durbin. Senator, thank you for joining us this morning, I appreciate it.

DURBIN: You're welcome.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC