Clock Keeps Ticking Toward Government Shutdown
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
The brinksmanship is familiar, but nobody quite knows how the fight over a government shutdown will end.
GREENE: Congress has to pass a bill by midnight to keep the government in full operation. House Republicans demanded that all funds be denied to Obamacare in exchange for keeping the government running 45 days. The Senate overwhelmingly said no.
INSKEEP: So, House Republicans have now passed a bill to delay Obamacare and repeal a tax that helps to fund it. That would be in exchange for the same short-term operation of the government, and the Senate is expected to say no again today. After that, who knows?
NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Here's the strategy House Republicans came up with on Saturday: Let's pass another bill the Senate has no intention of ever agreeing to. Is this hardball negotiating, or simply walking away from the table? Whatever it is, do not tell House Republicans what they're doing is wasting time.
Tim Griffin of Arkansas says that's what the Senate is doing. He and his colleagues showed up on the Capitol steps Sunday to make that clear.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
REPRESENTATIVE TIM GRIFFIN: This is the old football strategy: When you get to where you want to be in a football game, you run out the clock.
CHANG: This Republican gathering was advertised as a rally, except no one was cheering. Most of the people who showed up were camera crews and a handful of gaping tourists. But at least the Republicans were out there holding rallies, they said. Why didn't the Senate come to work Sunday? That's what Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee wanted to know.
REPRESENTATIVE MARSHA BLACKBURN: We were just talking - I said, we could have a great country album going out of this. I said I feel like "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Only it's "O Senate, Where Are Thou?"
GRIFFIN: The Senate will convene at 2 PM today, giving both chambers exactly 10 hours to agree on a spending measure, or else the government shuts down and 800,000 federal workers face furloughs. The Senate is expected, once again, to reject any language limiting Obamacare.
CHANG: Republican Louie Gohmert of Texas says he's not going to accept that from Senate Democrats. He's sick of hearing them point out the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land.
REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERT: The debt ceiling is the law, as well. And unless you want that shoved back in your face, then you need to be flexible and help American people.
CHANG: Both sides in this fight are having a contest over who is being more flexible. Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had said he will not accept any changes to the president's health care law, his number two, Dick Durbin, did say on CBS on Sunday repealing the tax on medical devices might be possible.
(SOUNDBITE OF CBS BROADCAST)
DICK DURBIN: But not with a gun to my head. Not with the prospect of shutting down the government.
CHANG: Meanwhile, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas - who's been leading the push to have this fight - told NBC on Sunday he actually represents the voice of compromise, and that he's already made concessions on Obamacare.
(SOUNDBITE OF NBC BROADCAST)
SENATOR TED CRUZ, REPUBLICAN, TEXAS: It is the Democrats who have taken the absolutist position. Look, I've engaged - I'd like to repeal every word of the law. But that wasn't my position, even in this fight. My position in this fight was we should defund it, which is different from repeal.
CHANG: So the country waits, as a government shutdown appears a near-certainty. It might be enough to make some Americans want to scream at Congress. And community college teacher Cathryn Carroll volunteered for that on Sunday, when she was biking by the Republican rally. She told Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington exactly what she thought of her colleagues.
CATHRYN CARROLL: They are disingenuous people. They create issues that aren't even there.
REPRESENTATIVE CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS: Well, if I, if I may. If I may...
CHANG: Carroll's eruption managed to break up the entire gathering. No matter, she said. These lawmakers already get too much airtime.
CARROLL: And I'm afraid when they're covered too often and too much - and Lord knows, they're eloquent people - that then the American people start to think there's a point there. And, unfortunately, it's not. It's just grandstanding. It's just carrying on.
CHANG: House leaders say if the Senate rejects their bill today, they will carry on and toss another bill back to the Senate with a few more options about Obamacare, which Senate leaders say they will reject all over again.
Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.