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Politics & Government

Showdown Over The Shutdown


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Members of the U.S. Congress are in for a long weekend. They need to approve a budget by midnight Monday, at which point the U.S. government is set to shut down. Now, the Senate approved a budget yesterday but a group of House Republicans say they won't vote for any spending legislation unless it defunds the Affordable Healthcare Act - Obamacare, that the president proposed, got passed and signed into law. Ramesh Ponnuru is senior editor for the National Review and joins us now. Thanks very much for being with us.

RAMESH PONNURU: You're welcome.

SIMON: Do you think a shutdown's likely?

PONNURU: You know, it's hard to say at this point. But I think we are headed in that direction.

SIMON: Are there people who want the U.S. government to shut down to prove a point?

PONNURU: Oh, there are certainly some folks who think that a shutdown will generate more pressure on the Democrats to go along with the Republicans and defund Obamacare for a year. But most people who are sort of toying with this idea seem to think that just the threat of it should be enough.

SIMON: Are there people in the Republican Party that are contemplating what the effect of a shutdown would be on the country, but I think, also it must be said, the effect on the Republican Party?

PONNURU: Look, a majority of House Republicans and a majority of Senate Republicans do not want to see a shutdown. And we saw that, I think, particularly in the Senate vote yesterday, where a majority of Senate Republicans did not vote with Senator Cruz on the vote that he thought was the most important, precisely because they want to avoid a shutdown. The problem, from the Republican point of view, is that there is a group of Republicans that are substantial enough that they can keep them from passing anything else, at least if they can't come up with something that gets Democratic support as well.

SIMON: And what are the practical effects of this politically, Mr. Ponnuru, and I mean less at this point in Congress but when members of that party have to run for election and re-election.

PONNURU: Well, you know, that depends. The folks in the Republican Party who are saying, you know, people exaggerate how bad a shutdown is politically, they'll point to 1996 and say, you know, Republicans didn't lose that many seats in the House; actually gained some seats in the Senate. So, you know, maybe it won't be that bad.

SIMON: Well, but let me intervene for a second.


SIMON: What about the practical effects that we're hearing about now, you know, the effect that this could have - I'll mention one thing specifically - on veterans and their families.

PONNURU: You know, I think that is going to weigh heavily on a lot of congressmen. The question is whether it weighs on enough of them. And one thing you hear from people is, well, we could always pass funding for just the military, just veterans benefits and so forth, and then send that back over to the Senate and then it'll be their responsibility if they don't pass such bills.

SIMON: Mr. Ponnuru, I'm going to paraphrase John McCain who said this week; he told his party on the floor of the Senate, look, we had an election, the president won. If you want to change healthcare, go out and win elections, don't hold up the federal budget on a legislative maneuver. How do you react to that?

PONNURU: Well, I think that there are good arguments in that and some bad arguments in that. I mean, of course, it's true that because the president won election the ability to change policy is limited. But, of course, you know, the senators and the congressmen got elected as well. Senator McCain got elected and he doesn't seem to feel any compunction about trying to change American foreign policy on Syria in his direction, even though Mr. Obama got elected.

SIMON: In the 15 seconds we have left, if there's an agreement of some kind this weekend, does the debate just begin all over again in a couple of weeks over the debt ceiling?

PONNURU: Absolutely. We are sort of going through one crisis at a time right now.

SIMON: Ramesh Ponnuru is senior editor for the National Review and a columnist for Bloomberg View. Thank so much for being with us, sir.

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