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Budget Debate To Hit High Drama This Week


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene, good morning. Here is a window into President Obama's agenda right now. He's off to New York today for the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Meanwhile, the U.S. federal government is heading towards a possible shutdown. And the president is helping the nation heal after another mass shooting.

Let's bring in a familiar voice on Monday mornings. Cokie Roberts, good morning.


GREENE: So Cokie, let's start with the U.N. meetings in New York. The big question is whether Obama is going to meet with the new president of Iran. And just to make clear, no U.S. president has met with an Iranian head of state since Jimmy Carter met with the Shah in 1977. I mean, could this really happen?

ROBERTS: Right. Well, the White House has given indications that it might. This new president, Hassan Rouhani, has clearly made it known he wants to meet with Obama - reach out to the West. And you know, on Rosh Hashanah he sent out a tweet wishing happy New Year to Jews. So he's different from past Iranian presidents. But he still insists that he's not developing nuclear weapons, and that Assad - in Syria - is his friend, so we'll see how far it gets.

The meeting would - of course - come, David, as the United States is still digesting the Syrian situation. And polling on the president's handling of it is mixed. In an ABC poll last week, a majority said the president had weakened the U.S. global leadership by his handling of Syria. But they're firmly against any U.S. military intervention, and they remain supportive of the president as a strong leader and a good commander-in-chief.

Republicans are trying to undermine that by saying that a meeting with the Iranian president would be a sign of weakness and willingness to deal with a country that is harmful to Israel. So we'll see whether any meeting takes place.

GREENE: We'll certainly see. And the president is leaving town for New York after spending yesterday at memorial services for the 12 victims who were killed by that gunman at the Navy Yard offices last week. I mean, has this latest tragedy done anything to really move the dial on gun laws - which is a question that seems to come up time and time again, after an event like this.

ROBERTS: Not so as you'd notice. You know, there was the recall in Colorado recently, of two legislators who voted for gun control. And it has served to make everybody nervous about gun control again. The president tried to move it yesterday. He said: Our tears are not enough. It ought to obsess us, it ought to lead us to some sort of transformation. But that certainly doesn't seem to be happening on Capitol Hill.

There's a lot of talk about mental illness, and what to do about that. But the way this country currently treats mentally ill people is to put them in jail, if to do anything at all. And the latest budget battle makes it clear that nothing is going to happen to increase treatment of the mentally ill in this country.

GREENE: Well, the budget battle - I mean that's going to be high drama this week on Capitol Hill. The Senate's going to be taking up this bill, passed by the House, that tries to make sure President Obama's health care law does not have money to administer it, that it doesn't get funded. Is there a chance of that flying in the Senate?

ROBERTS: No. But without this bill, the government shuts down next week. And the House Republican leadership tried to pass a government spending bill without defunding Obamacare, but they were overruled by young Republicans who don't think a government shutdown is such a bad thing. They weren't here in 1995. But more important, from their perspective, David, they have their voters behind him.

Last week's ABC poll makes that very clear. The majority of the country is against Obamacare, as it has been in 16 polls since 2009. But more important is the fact that among those who oppose Obamacare, 52 percent say it's worth it to shut down the government to kill the law. Now, in the broader population, only 27 percent say that. So Republicans who represent strongly Republican districts - and that's more and more Republicans - are justified in saying the president might have won the national referendum on this issue but not in my district, where I won by much bigger margins.

So Obamacare has become a rallying cry. And conservative outside groups say they're going to hold Republicans' feet to the fire if they don't oppose Obamacare. What happens in the Senate is very complicated, indeed. But it could end up back in the House and the government shut down next week.

GREENE: Cokie Roberts, always good to talk to you.

ROBERTS: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.