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Politics & Government

Hours From Shutdown, Senate Says No To House Plan


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. Four more hours, that's how long lawmakers have to agree on a spending bill before the federal government shuts down. Hundreds of thousands of employees will be furloughed. National parks and museums will close and some food safety programs will shut down. This afternoon, President Obama criticized congressional Republicans for the economic impact a shutdown would have.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The idea of putting the American people's hard-earned progress at risk is the height of irresponsibility, and it doesn't have to happen.

CORNISH: On Capitol Hill, the issue at the center of the debate is not the budget itself, but rather the president's Affordable Care Act.

Several dozen Tea Party-backed Republicans in the House are insisting the law must be delayed, at least, if not repealed. And they're using the continuing resolution, as it's known, for leverage. Joining us from the Capitol with the latest is NPR's Tamara Keith. And Tamara, we had this dramatic session that stretched past midnight over the weekend, the House passed their latest spending bill. And then, this afternoon, the Senate took just a few minutes to reject it.

Tell us what happened.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It was called tabling the motion. They didn't even actually vote on the amendments, they voted to table it. It took just a few seconds, really, and then it was done, and sent it back to the House, where they're now voting on a new plan soon.

CORNISH: So, the first House bill tried to defund the healthcare law, right, altogether. And then, this weekend's version tried to delay it for a year. What's Plan C?

KEITH: Delaying the individual mandate and some other provisions. House Speaker John Boehner described the plan earlier today.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: And so we're going to move here in the next several hours to take the Senate bill, add to it a one-year delay of the individual mandate on the American people, and get rid of the exemption for members of Congress. It's a matter of fairness for all Americans.

KEITH: And he says he is confident that it will pass. I saw him on the House floor earlier whipping the vote, where he's talking to various members and having heated discussions with a number of Republicans, moderate Republicans, trying to convince them to, in fact, vote for this.

CORNISH: Whipping the vote, going out and doing last minute lobbying, some head-counting, but does this plan have enough support to pass?

KEITH: One thing I can tell you, it's not going to get Democrats. Louise Slaughter is a Democrat from New York. She spoke on the floor about the bill a few minutes ago.

REPRESENTATIVE LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Mr. Speaker, today is a truly shameful day in the distinguished history of this House, far from the noble mission that some on the other side may claim. What is before us is an extreme and extremely cynical attempt to extract a ransom from the American people.

KEITH: And she's not the only one. There are actually some moderate Republicans who say that this is a losing battle. Peter King from New York described this as a dead end. And then, on the right, there are folks like Jenny Beth Martin, who is an outspoken Tea Party activist on the outside of Congress, who in Twitter criticized the continuing resolution, the bill to keep the government funding, saying that although it delays the individual mandate in Obamacare, it actually funds the law and so it should be defeated. So there actually is some question as to whether it will be able to pass.

CORNISH: All right, so if this does end up making it out of the House, it heads back to the Senate, and then what?

KEITH: The Senate's going to table it again, and they'll do it quickly. Pete Sessions is a Texas Republican in the House and he described what's coming.

REPRESENTATIVE PETE SESSIONS: I think what the Republican Party is here trying to say is we're here at work. We're going to get our work done. We're challenging the United States Senate to do the same. And we are going to pass this bill tonight because it's the right thing to do. And we'll stay open tonight and we'll receive their - in ping-pong terms, the ping and the pong, back and forth, and we'll be ready.

CORNISH: Tamara, the last few years of fiscal showdowns, there's always been some kind of talk, right, between the president and congressional leaders. Any of that happening now?

KEITH: Tonight, the president did speak with congressional leaders but based on the readouts, they're having the same conversations they've been having where he says he won't negotiate and Republicans and the speaker say, but Obamacare is terrible, we have to do something about it, and the president says we'll talk later. The conversation lasted about 10 minutes with the speaker. No amazing breakthroughs.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tamara, thank you.

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