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Congress debates short-term options to prevent a shutdown

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The federal government is set to run out of funds in just 10 days. That means there isn't enough time to pass full-year spending bills. So Congress is back to debating short-term options to avoid a shutdown. Here's House Speaker Mike Johnson from earlier today.

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MIKE JOHNSON: I'm not going to show you all the cards right now. We have some very constructive and, I think, very positive discussions going on. I think it should be palatable to our colleagues in the Senate because they understand we've got to get the job done.

CHANG: NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel is on Capitol Hill following all of this and joins us now. Hey, Eric.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: I mean, how many times do we keep on having this conversation? Ten days doesn't seem like very much time to come up with a plan to avoid a government shutdown. Are lawmakers even close to a deal at this point?

MCDANIEL: I mean, no. I spent the morning bopping around the basement of the Capitol building. I was trying to talk to House Republicans as they left a meeting where they were supposed to sort this out. And basically, well, they haven't. What I heard from folks was they have a lot of different ideas about what they're hoping to do but not a lot of consensus about which of those ideas they'll pursue. But, you know, I will say the mood seems to be a lot better than when they were fighting and trying to pick a speaker. It's just that a lot of the fault lines that were there then among House Republicans are still basically the same.

CHANG: OK. So what are some of the options that House Republicans are considering right now?

MCDANIEL: Well, there's the eternal option, this so-called clean bill. And that would just be extending current funding levels for a little while - Johnson has suggested through January 15. But that would really upset the hard-line Republicans, including members of the Freedom Caucus. Then there's the idea of a laddered bill. It's essentially this rolling deadlines for different agencies that could shut down just parts of the federal government.

CHANG: Oh, my God.

MCDANIEL: And that approach would allow the GOP to use the threat of those mini shutdowns to extract political concessions over and over. And then there's what seems most likely at this point, which is policy concessions on the U.S.-Mexico border.

CHANG: Well, is that what Senate Republicans also want to see, border policy changes?

MCDANIEL: Yeah, that's right. The Senate is, of course under Democratic control, but they're going to need 60 votes to pass the bill through the chamber. And that means they need the support of some Republicans. And here's Senate Minority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a little earlier this afternoon.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: Border security needs to be a part of this package if it's going to move out of the Senate.

MCDANIEL: I will say, though, that House Republicans and Senate Republicans may not actually agree on what border security policy changes they want to see and what would be enough of a concession to, you know, keep the government open.

CHANG: Right. OK. Well, what about the Democrats? Where are they on all of this?

MCDANIEL: So last night in the House, I talked to Marcy Kaptur. She's an Ohio Democrat. She serves on the Appropriations Committee, and she's happy to see House Republicans at least working on a plan after spending three-plus weeks trying to pick a new leader.

MARCY KAPTUR: At least there's some movement. And for the sake of the country, let them get these horses in the corral.

MCDANIEL: As far as Senate Democrats go, they are, of course, not enthused about the Republican border policy ideas. So that's got to get sorted out. But, you know, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat, said all the leaders are talking, and he's hopeful that they can get a plan together.

CHANG: Hopeful. All right. That's, I guess, reassuring. So what's the process going forward?

MCDANIEL: Look, in order to keep the government open, they need to vote on a plan - that's both chambers - and it needs to get signed by a - on - by the president. But in order to vote on a plan, they need to agree on one, and right now, there aren't even really clear plans to agree on. So lots of steps left and not lots of time left to work on them.

CHANG: Yay. That is NPR's Eric McDaniel joining us from Capitol Hill. Thank you so much, Eric.

MCDANIEL: Talk to you soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.