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Congressional spending bill will avoid a government shutdown — for now

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It appears Congress will avoid a government shutdown. Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, over strong objections from some in his own party, passed a short-term extension of government funding through early next year by relying on Democratic support.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE JOHNSON: We have broken the fever. We are not going to have a massive omnibus spending bill right before Christmas, and that will allow us to go through the appropriations process as it should be done.

CHANG: That's Johnson speaking to reporters earlier today. The Senate is expected to take up the bill later this week ahead of the Friday deadline to avoid a government shutdown. NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel is there on Capitol Hill and joins us now. Hey, Eric.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so tell us more about what's inside this spending bill.

MCDANIEL: So Speaker Mike Johnson's proposal extends current levels of funding for another two months. That's pretty normal. But it actually works in kind of a weird, new way, where some parts of the federal government run out of money on January 17. Some of the least controversial spending bills, like funding for veterans, agriculture, transportation would expire first.

CHANG: OK.

MCDANIEL: Lawmakers think it will be a little bit easier to pass those - long-term funding for those bills. Then it goes to the harder bills, including the Department of Defense and everything else. Those bills expire - funding for those agencies expires on February 2. The goal here is to move beyond the short-term bills and buy time for the House and Senate to pass the full suite of federal spending bills.

CHANG: OK, but wait. This isn't how Congress normally funds the government, right? So why did Speaker Johnson decide to do it this way?

MCDANIEL: So he was adopting an idea from hardline members of his own conference - folks in the House Freedom Caucus - in an effort to get their backing for a short-term funding measure. It's worth saying, though, they oppose this bill, upset that it doesn't cut spending or contain any conservative policy priorities. But measures like that would doom the bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate, so Speaker Johnson took an approach that was able to get Democratic support in order to keep the government open. And according to a new NPR poll that is coming out tomorrow, 67% of people think it's more important for Johnson to compromise rather than stand on principle. Admittedly, Republicans are split on that in our poll respondents, as are Republican lawmakers in the House. Our poll also found that Americans would place more blame on Republicans than on Democrats and President Biden if the government were to shut down.

CHANG: OK, so tell me this. Why would Democrats go along with this?

MCDANIEL: Well, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was happy to see that the Republican speaker backed off of the idea of funding cuts and introduced a so-called clean bill that Democratic lawmakers would feel comfortable supporting. That's a contrast to the speaker's first major piece of legislation, which tied a popular bipartisan idea - aid to Israel - to a conservative policy - cuts to the IRS - and effectively doomed the bill. Schumer says he'll now work with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, to get it through that chamber by Friday.

CHANG: OK. So a Friday shutdown is not likely at this point. But does it seem like House Republicans can set aside their differences in order to pass the full spending bills before the next deadline comes up in just a few months? What do you think?

MCDANIEL: It's going to be really hard is what I think. They already had to pull two spending bills before a vote last week because they didn't have enough Republican support to pass. In one case, moderates were upset over language restricting abortion access here in D.C. And even beyond the policy stuff, things are really, really tense here. This fall we've had a funding fight followed by a Republican leadership fight followed by a funding fight. And all that tension is still simmering and occasionally bubbling over into physical confrontation. So I'll just put it this way. If you think your Thanksgivings are tense...

CHANG: (Laughter).

MCDANIEL: ...Knock back a Wisconsin Old-Fashioned and be glad you're not a House Republican.

CHANG: Nice. That is NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel. Thank you, Eric.

MCDANIEL: Thanks, Ailsa. 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.