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Differences on spending bills sets up a possible September government shutdown clash

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Lawmakers have left Washington and will not be back until September.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

At which point the country will once again have just a few weeks to reach a deal to avoid a government shutdown. And some hard-line House Republicans say the party should be willing to do just that.

INSKEEP: For example, Congressman Bob Good of Virginia speaking outside the Capitol this week.

BOB GOOD: What would happen if Republicans for once stare down the Democrats and were the ones who refused to cave and to betray the American people and the trust they put in us when they gave us a majority? So we don't fear a government shutdown.

INSKEEP: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis is covering this. Sue, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: I feel we need to clarify this for people because Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden finalized a budget deal just last month, didn't they?

DAVIS: They absolutely did. They reached a bipartisan agreement in order to avoid a debt default. And part of that deal was to set government spending targets for the next two years with the intent of avoiding a government shutdown. Biden signed that bill into law back in early June, but it really angered the right wing of the speaker's party. And within days, McCarthy backed away from the terms of the deal. He said the House would pass their annual 12 spending bills at lower levels than they had agreed to in the deal, and that is exactly what they've done. The problem, Steven, and there's a lot of problems, is that the Senate has done the exact opposite. They upheld the terms of the deal. By yesterday they had passed all 12 of their bills out of committee. They passed them with near-unanimous support from Democrats and Republicans. And they didn't include any controversial add-ons, often referred to as poison pills on Capitol Hill, in their bills that they will also have to negotiate with the House in the fall.

INSKEEP: Oh, wait, did the House then add a bunch of poison pills in addition to lower spending?

DAVIS: A lot of them, and in all 12 bills - and that's part of what's going to make this round of shutdown negotiations so complicated. It's not just a disagreement about how much money to spend. There's something called the, quote, Anti-Woke Caucus in the House. There's about two dozen Republicans in it. And they lobbied really hard to put policy riders in the appropriations bills to eliminate any money for things that they say promote far-left ideology on race and gender. One example of this - they requested eliminating $3 million in funding for the Congressional Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and they were successful. Republicans stripped that money from their bill. There's also a lot of abortion-related provisions in many bills that are going to be very contentious to negotiate with Democrats. There's also been a lot of really personal, contentious moments among lawmakers during the process of passing these bills. Just last week at a hearing, Republicans moved to eliminate funding for three LGBTQ centers that were located in three Democrat's congressional districts. That move prompted Wisconsin Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan - he is openly gay himself - to accuse Republicans of anti-gay bigotry. But Republicans ultimately were successful in removing those provisions from the bill.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about the complexities here. McCarthy, because his majority is so narrow, may need some Democrats to go along, which means he would have to get rid of some of these provisions. But he also has some people in his own caucus who may want him out of his job.

DAVIS: He's backed himself into a very difficult negotiating position. He's going to both have to try to not shut down the government to make his moderate members look reasonable and like they can govern and win reelection. He's got to keep his conservatives happy so they don't try to throw him out. And he's got to try to pass a bill that can pass both a Democratic Senate and be signed by President Biden into law. It's a really difficult position, and that's why no one I spoke to this week was confident that a shutdown could be avoided in late September.

INSKEEP: Just a reminder, McCarthy really wanted this job. It's a job he wanted. Susan, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Susan Davis. 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.

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.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.