Negotiators Work To Avoid Government Shutdown

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

At this hour, with less than three hours left before the shutdown deadline, we're still waiting to see whether Congress and the president can resolve their impasse on the budget and stave off a government shutdown. Joining me to discuss where we stand is NPR's Washington editor Ron Elving.

Ron, there have been rumors through the night that, yes, they had a deal, but still here we are three hours away, no apparent deal, right?

RON ELVING: Not a deal that's been approved as yet. We've heard several times that there was one, most of that seems to be coming from the Democratic side. Speaker John Boehner, the Republican leader of the House, has continually said no, there's not a deal yet.

We have heard from a number of different news reports the broad outlines of the deal. It's approximately the $38 billion in spending cuts that we've heard all day long, maybe a little more, maybe $39 billion. We've heard that some of it might come from Defense. And we've also heard that it is not going to have those riders, those policy matters that seem to have been hanging things up all day long.

BLOCK: Well, wouldn't that be a deal breaker, Ron, if those riders are gone? A lot of the Republicans have been really staking their vote on those policy issues, right?

ELVING: If that were the case, it would seem unlikely that the Republicans would get the votes in the House to be able to pass this strictly with Republican votes, which is what Speaker Boehner has said he wants to do; 218 is the majority in the House, he wants to do that all on the Republican side.

Now, we do know this: In a little less than half an hour, at about 9:45 Eastern time, the Republicans in the House are holding a conference meeting - if you will, a caucus - of just the Republicans in the House. They're going to hear the details about the deal. They're going to be told, probably, that they would have to pass some kind of short-term continuing resolution, as they've been doing over the past several weeks. They won't have the final deal that runs straight through September 30th for a few days yet. And we're going to then have the critical moment of truth to find out how many Republicans are ready to make a deal and try to avert a shutdown.

BLOCK: And Ron, let's just think about the clock here. With three hours or so to go before midnight, what can they get done - I mean, can they get that continuing resolution, the short-term deal, voted on and approved in time to avert a government shutdown? Or are we looking at at least some short-term government shutdown over the weekend?

ELVING: One option would be to allow the shutdown to begin and cut it off over the course of the weekend, another would be to have essentially a two-day weekend shutdown - obviously an inconvenience for many people, obviously a disruption for people planning to go to national historic sites, museums, that sort of thing, national parks, but not as serious as a weekday disruption. So there would be that possibility, that option.

Or they could pass something somewhere past the midnight hour here on the East Coast that really was sufficient to keep the government going and keep everything open on Saturday morning.

BLOCK: This, of course, follows last evening's briefing from the president where he said, look, I expect to have something in the morning, that of course didn't happen; competing news conferences through the day, mutual recrimination from both sides. You do get a sense that there's something different now that we're approaching midnight?

ELVING: Somehow as the sun went down tonight, there did seem to be a new sense of seriousness, perhaps a certain amount of feedback coming into all the offices involved, many of the House Republicans starting to hear from people who are telling them, look, we don't want this shutdown to take place over Planned Parenthood. We don't want a shutdown to take place over a tiny percentage of the budget. Why don't you guys take one more whack at trying to get a deal?

BLOCK: OK. And they're still working on it. NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.