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White House Says It Doesn't Want A Government Shutdown, But Will Congress Reach A Deal?


I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington, where we are bracing for a possible government shutdown tonight. Federal spending authority, the money, runs out at midnight. And while the House passed a short-term extension yesterday, for the moment it does not look as if the Senate has the votes to follow suit. President Trump has scrapped his plans to spend the weekend in Florida. Instead, he spent part of this afternoon huddling with Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer. The two New Yorkers are said to have made some progress, but so far no breakthrough, just plenty of political finger pointing.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: I want to ask because for the last three and a half months the government has been running on stopgap spending bills that keep, you know, kicking this deadline down the road, but nobody's had to turn the government's lights out. What is different tonight?

HORSLEY: The difference is the Democrats appear to be dug in. They are insisting that any new spending bill include protection for the so-called DREAMers. That is those undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. Remember; back in the fall, President Trump announced that he was going to unravel the protection DREAMers had been getting from former President Obama. And ever since then, Democrats have been under pressure to put something in its place. Now, Democrats are of course a minority in Congress, but they have some leverage in the Senate because Republicans don't have the 60 votes there they need to pass a spending bill on their own. So Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer and his colleagues have been exercising that leverage. And White House budget director Mick Mulvaney says if there is a shutdown, it's on them.


MICK MULVANEY: We don't want this. We do not want a shutdown. But if Mr. Schumer insists on it, he is in a position to force this on the American people.

HORSLEY: Republicans can't count on getting off scot-free, though, because they do control the House, the Senate and the White House.

KELLY: Oh, yes, they do. And one of the challenges these recent days has been trying to figure out where President Trump exactly stands. He tweeted this afternoon. He said he'd had an excellent preliminary meeting with Senator Schumer. Do we know his position? And what happens now?

HORSLEY: Well, the president says he's still pushing for a four-week-long stopgap spending bill like what passed the House. The Senate has been - the Senate Democrats have mostly been against that. The idea was floated of a very short-term extension, maybe just a few days, to keep the pressure on. The White House shot that down. Mulvaney did tell CNN this evening, though, he still thinks there's room for some kind of a deal if not by midnight tonight than at least by the end of the weekend.


MULVANEY: I think there's a deal in the next 24 hours. Because of the nature of the back-and-forth between the House and the Senate, I look at more of it in terms of what gets done before the offices are supposed to open on Monday. And I think you're going to see a deal. Yes, sir.

KELLY: Is that notable, by the way, Scott, the White House starting to talk about the goal post as maybe not being midnight tonight but end of the weekend?

HORSLEY: Well, the weekend does give everyone a little bit of flexibility because, of course, if the federal government shuts down it's a lot less noticeable on a Saturday or a Sunday.

KELLY: We won't notice so much till Monday morning. OK, if a shutdown does happen, what would that look like?

HORSLEY: Most essential services would continue. But there could be fallout at places like the Centers for Disease Control, which monitors the spread of flu, for example. Military troops would keep working. Border patrol and TSA agents would remain on the job. Most government workers would not be paid, although if history is any guide they would eventually get backpay, even those who were furloughed. But that could be a temporary financial hit for those working paycheck to paycheck. The next federal payday, for example, is scheduled to be next Friday.

KELLY: All right, that's NPR's Scott Horsley with all the latest from the White House. Thanks as ever, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.