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What the bipartisan spending framework could mean for Speaker Mike Johnson's future

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Top congressional leaders announced a bipartisan deal that sets spending levels for federal agencies for the rest of the fiscal year. This could avoid a government shutdown if they finish the job on time. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer touted the significance today.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: The agreement now clears the way for Congress to act in the coming weeks to avoid a government shutdown while also preserving key domestic programs that benefit millions of Americans.

KELLY: There is still a lot of work to do, though, and not a lot of time before some programs start to run out of money. Here to explain is NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh. She is at the Capitol. Hey there.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: Details, please - what is in this deal?

WALSH: It's a framework for how much the federal government can spend on programs through September - about $1.6 trillion. This deal sticks to the overall budget agreement that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy cut last year with President Biden when they negotiated a deal to avoid a debt default. For this deal, Democrats say they prevented deeper spending cuts in domestic programs that conservatives wanted. And Republicans are touting cuts to the IRS that they were able to speed up and a provision that claws back about $6 billion in unspent COVID money.

KELLY: Big picture though - shutdown, no shutdown - where does this leave things?

WALSH: It's unclear. I mean, now the spending committees have to fill in the details. It is a big deal that they got the overall number, but they have not a lot of time to work out all of these details for each agency. On January 19, if they can't pass the first tranche of spending bills for things like military construction projects, energy programs, housing, there could be a partial government shutdown. And then on February 2, we could be facing a full government shutdown if Congress can't agree to the rest of the spending bills.

KELLY: OK. So a lot of horse trading still going on here. And I want to note this was Speaker Johnson, who is obviously a Republican, who signed onto this deal with Senator Schumer, a Democrat. How is it going over with House Republicans?

WALSH: You know, some conservatives are not happy about this deal. The House Freedom Caucus, when it was announced, called the deal a, quote, "total failure." As you remember, conservatives were unhappy with that debt deal last year that set these spending levels that Johnson is basically sticking to. And that deal led to former Speaker Kevin McCarthy's ouster. Some say they're disappointed that Speaker Johnson didn't get deeper cuts in this deal. Spending deals in divided government usually mean significant bipartisan votes. So a lot of people who are complaining now are conservatives who tend to vote against any deal that's cut with any Democrat.

KELLY: OK, to the point you just made about - that the last time around, this led to Kevin McCarthy's being ousted as speaker, are there any signs that Mike Johnson - current Speaker Mike Johnson is in trouble?

WALSH: Not right now. He's facing a lot of criticism but no one's calling for him to go. Conservatives really wanted this spending bill to be a place that they could use some leverage to force some policy changes. A lot of House Republicans admit they would like bigger cuts and some policy changes attached to a funding deal. But those aren't going to happen when there's a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president. Last week, Johnson led a big delegation of Republicans to the southwest border. And a growing number of conservatives in his conference are saying if the Biden administration doesn't shut down the border, House Republicans should shut down the government. So we're really seeing this collision of the politics of immigration and government spending.

KELLY: Well, and meanwhile, this deal - it does not include any changes to deal with the border. It also does not include funding for the wars in Ukraine and Israel. Is there any update on the talks to try to move legislation on those issues forward?

WALSH: There are signs that a Senate bipartisan deal could emerge. The top Senate Republican Jim Lankford of Oklahoma said they could release details later this week. If they do get a deal on those border talks, they could try to attach it to a larger spending package. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been backing the request from President Biden for money for Ukraine, but he's also stressing that any national security funding bill has to deal with the border.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: Beginning at the southern border, we must demonstrate that America is up for the challenges we face. The Senate cannot afford to get this wrong.

WALSH: The talks on the border are really focused narrowly on changes to the country's asylum laws - who can enter the U.S. and claim asylum based on fears about political or security situations in their home countries. This bipartisan group may reinstate some policies that were placed under former President Trump, and that is giving some on the left concerns. Any deal is going to face strong resistance from both the left and the right.

KELLY: Thank you, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. 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.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.