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Government Shutdown Still Possible As Short-Term Funding Passes House

Jan 18, 2018
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Congress is one step closer to funding the government, or it could be one step closer to a shutdown. Earlier this evening in a mostly party-line vote, the U.S. House passed a bill funding the government through February 16. It would also fund the popular Children's Health Insurance Program, CHIP, for six more years. The vote tonight sets up a confrontation with the Senate.

And joining us now from Capitol Hill to walk us through all of the day's developments is NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: So as I said, you've been tracking this all day. It had looked like Republicans in the House were divided, but they got this vote through. How did they manage to come to an agreement?

SNELL: Well, they were negotiating with the speaker up until the very last hour before the vote. It really came down to this group of maybe two dozen very conservative House members known as the House Freedom Caucus. They were asking for more assurances from the speaker that they would be able to vote on big-picture questions about military spending and immigration.

Ultimately 224 Republicans voted for the spending bill, and that's more than enough to pass it without the help of any Democrats, though some Dems did vote yes. Freedom Caucus members came out of a meeting with the speaker saying that he agreed to allow future votes on pay raises for troops, a commitment to vote on a full year of military funding and a vote on a conservative immigration bill written by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte.

Now, that would include money to fully fund construction of a border wall, and it would require employers to use a controversial E-Verify system to check the status of their workers. The thing is that we're not sure that that could even pass the House.

KELLY: OK. But meanwhile, I suppose all eyes now turn to the Senate, right?

SNELL: Right.

KELLY: I mean, throughout the day, we've been talking to Democrats and Republicans on the Senate side saying they're not going to vote for this bill no matter what. What are they asking for? What changes do they want to see to vote yes?

SNELL: Yeah. The back of the envelope calculation that we have right now is that there probably aren't enough votes to - for this to pass in the Senate, though things could change. There's a lot - as crazy as it sounds, there's a lot of time between now and the end of the day tomorrow.

Democrats want a deal on immigration, and they want that agreement to increase spending across the board as part of the spending bill. And they want those two things paired together. Now, they're no longer saying they need a vote on it by the end of this week, but they are saying that they want a deal. And there's a serious lack of trust up here. Democrats say the president is unpredictable. They don't trust that he'll sign off a deal even if one is reached. And they point to his tweet earlier this morning that seemed to contradict the spending bill drafted by GOP leaders specifically to ensure that it would pass.

And so they're just not sure what he will do, and they want some more assurances from Republicans in Congress that this deal is actually going to come together 'cause they're saying it's about 700,000 people who were protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the DACA program, which will expire at the beginning of March. And they want to make sure those people are protected.

KELLY: All right, so a lot of question marks still in terms of what President Trump might be willing to sign, a lot of question marks in terms of how this may all be play out - playing out in the Senate tomorrow - I mean, we're looking toward tomorrow. How - we've been talking about how the chances have gone up and down of a shutdown all day today. What - how does it look for tomorrow?

SNELL: Things are incredibly uncertain right now. It's entirely possible that the Senate will start holding procedural votes as soon as later tonight. And Democrats say they want to avoid a shutdown, but they're at a critical tipping point. And it's a risk. Who will voters blame if there's a shutdown? Republicans say it will be Democrats because they withheld their votes. Democrats think it's Republicans because they believe that DACA's important to most of their voters.

KELLY: Right.

SNELL: And Republicans control the Senate and the White House (laughter).

KELLY: Lots of action to watch there tomorrow. That's NPR's Kelsey Snell on Capitol Hill. Thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.