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Without Action, Government Will Shut Down At Month's End


Now, the future shape of the economy will be influenced, in part, by negotiations in Congress this month. What could possibly go wrong? If Congress doesn't act by the end of this month, there will be a partial government shutdown and then in October a fight over the debt ceiling looms. Some Republicans want to rerun a tactic they used in 2011, refusing to borrow to pay for commitments Congress previously made unless the White House agrees to Republican budget demands. NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith has the latest.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This is one of those times where if you ask people who watch Congress and follow the budget flights closely, they will admit they have no idea how it's going to turn out, but generally they think it's going to get ugly. The top leaders of the House and Senate met for 45 minutes yesterday behind closed doors. As he left the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn't have much to say.

SENATOR HARRY REID: Yeah, it was a good meeting.

KEITH: Later, at a press conference, he elaborated. They didn't yell at each other, he said, but it seems they also didn't get any closer to figuring out how they'll keep the government open for business and avoid defaulting on the nation's obligations. The House was supposed to vote this week on a measure to fund the government for the next few months. This was supposed to be a quick and easy vote ahead of what would be the real battle over the debt limit.

But leaders had to delay the vote because it didn't have enough support from conservatives. They're demanding that any measure to fund the government also defunds the president's healthcare law. House Speaker John Boehner says discussions are under way about how to proceed.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: I'm well aware of the deadlines. So are my colleagues. And so we're working with our colleagues to work our way through these issues. I think there's a way to get there. I'm going to be continuing to work with my fellow leaders and our members to address those concerns.

KEITH: Forty-two House Republicans have now introduced an alternative measure. The implication? That what the Speaker and other leaders tried isn't good enough when it comes to going after the healthcare law. Other House Republicans are floating a different idea. Save the Obamacare fight for the debt ceiling. Representative John Fleming is from Louisiana.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN FLEMING: We give the administration a debt ceiling increase they want. We give them maybe some sequestration dollars that they would like to have and in exchange, we delay Obamacare, which I think the president should want that. If he doesn't, he should.

KEITH: He doesn't. Quick reality check here from the president's spokesman, Jay Carney.

JAY CARNEY: We will not accept anything that delays or defunds Obamacare.

KEITH: But back to Congressman Fleming's idea. Depending on how it's structured, a proposal that delays Obamacare, reverses automatic budget cuts and raises the debt ceiling would actually add to the deficit, not shrink it. And Fleming says that may well be worth it.

FLEMING: In my view, Obamacare is the most existential threat to our economy than anything we've ever had since the Great Depression, so I think a little bit of additional deficit is nothing compared to delaying if not repealing Obamacare.

KEITH: Speaker Boehner was asked about this at his weekly press conference and let's just say he didn't endorse it.

BOEHNER: There are a lot of members with a lot of ideas and we're gonna continue to talk to all of them.

KEITH: For his part, Majority Leader Reid says ideas like this one aren't going to be well received in the Senate. His advice to the Speaker?

REID: Want to be as helpful to him as I can be, but I had to be very candid with him and I told him very directly that all these things they're trying to do on the Obamacare is just a waste of their time.

KEITH: House leaders are buying a little extra time to work through these issues. The House was supposed to be out on recess the week of September 23. Now members are being told they may need to be in session that week and possibly into the following weekend. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capital. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.