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A possible government shutdown is days away with few solutions being discussed


Here in Washington, lawmakers return to the Capitol with just four days to go until the country faces another government shutdown.


If it happens, it would be the fourth such shutdown in the past decade. The last one was in 2019. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says he remains hopeful that a short-term funding bill can be passed before the deadline.

INSKEEP: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Susan, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How does this keep happening?

DAVIS: You know, this situation is unique in that it wasn't supposed to happen at all, Steve. If you recall, House Speaker McCarthy and Joe Biden cut a budget deal back in late May. It raised the debt limit for two years and set spending targets for the same time. The goal was to get us past the next presidential election without any of these kind of standoffs. Within days of that being signed into law, McCarthy essentially walked away from the deal under pressure from the right and said he would pass bills at lower target levels. The Senate upheld their terms of the deal, and since then, McCarthy has been trying - and failing repeatedly - to try to prove that he can pass things on Republican votes alone.

INSKEEP: OK. Republican votes alone. Very narrow majority. So he has to keep almost all the Republicans together. But, you know, just a guess, it could be that there's 400 of the 435 votes in the House to pass at least a temporary extension. Why doesn't McCarthy just ask for some Democratic votes and go ahead?

DAVIS: He still could. You know, so these stopgap bills are routinely passed with bipartisan support. The vast majority of lawmakers on Capitol Hill do not want to be in this shutdown scenario. But doing so for McCarthy also opens up a very real risk that a member from the far right - most likely Matt Gaetz of Florida, 'cause he's been the loudest on this - would try to introduce a resolution to throw him out of the speakership if he aligns himself with Democrats to try to pass these spending bills or even a stopgap.

INSKEEP: OK. I get this. I remember when McCarthy was elected speaker, he had to give his critics the power to more easily oust him. But I really have a question here - are we really heading for a shutdown based on what you said? Are we really heading for a shutdown because Kevin McCarthy wants to keep his job?

DAVIS: You know, I can't presume how he navigates out of this, but it is absolutely true that Congress has got itself into this point because of leadership decisions he has made. And his leadership could be on the line depending on how all of this shakes out over the course of the next weeks and months. I think this is all why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken a very different view of this. He said just last week that shutdowns have historically been, quote, "a loser for Republicans." And I think that view is shared pretty widely by Republicans on Capitol Hill.

INSKEEP: But McCarthy, even in a private meeting, dared his colleagues, go ahead, submit the resolution, you know, try to fire me if you can. Why doesn't he just tell them that and then go ahead and do what he thinks he needs to do?

DAVIS: You know, a lot of times on the Hill, four days sounds like a short time. But in these shutdown standoffs, it can still be a lifetime. I think a lot of times leadership likes to prove they exhausted every option before the most realistic one has to pass. And the most realistic one is that a stopgap spending bill and divided Washington will need both Republican and Democratic support to get through a Democratic Senate and be signed by a Democratic president.

INSKEEP: You mentioned McConnell having a different opinion of this. And of course, Senate Republicans have cooperated with Democrats and done their job. Are there some House Republicans who think that a shutdown would be politically good for their party?

DAVIS: There is a small number of fringe, hard-right Republicans who do not think that the politics of a shutdown would be that bad. These Republicans tend to represent very conservative districts. Bob Good of Virginia is one Republican who has very publicly said, I don't think a shutdown would be that bad for us. That's a fringe view. I do not think that that is a majority view of either Republicans or any lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Shutdowns also tend to be very bad for the economy. And I think Republicans campaigning are trying to present themselves as the party that is better for the economy.

INSKEEP: NPR's political correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, I hope you get sleep when you can over the next few days since there might be some nights when you don't.

DAVIS: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.