Politics Update

Apr 11, 2011



It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne

The suspense of a possible government shutdown is over, but the debate over larger issues has only begun. The federal government is open today. Lawmakers reached a deal on the budget Friday night, and gave themselves most of this week to formally pass it. That deal, though, is only for the current fiscal year - already half over. The federal deficit is a long-term problem. And this week, leaders in both parties pressed long-term plans, including President Obama, who's expected to speak about his on Wednesday.

Joining us now, as she does most Mondays, is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: What do lawmakers think of the agreement they reached on Friday?

ROBERTS: Well, not everyone's happy with it, to put it mildly. And there's even some small doubt about whether it'll get enough House votes to pass it on Wednesday. But, the truth is the Republicans won a lot: $38.5 billion in cuts; what the president says is the biggest annual spending cut ever. And the Democrats, by and large, kept social legislation out of it, that Republicans wanted. And they were able to redirect some spending cuts.

So they won something, too. Neither side sees much to crow about, however. The president is emphasizing the cooperation that he was able to get between Democrats and Republicans, talking about how this agreement like the one on tax cuts last December. He's mindful, of course, that after those tax cuts, that he went up in the public opinion polls. And so he is touting that cooperation.

MONTAGNE: And, as you say, even as the president talks about cooperation, the White House noted that the president was standing firm on money for Planned Parenthood. Why did that become such a big issue?

ROBERTS: Well, the president was thinking about independent voters, especially suburban, independent voters who tend to support organizations like Planned Parenthood. Republicans are trying to cut off funding because they say they use the non-federal dollars for abortions and the Republicans are against abortions. But the president, even as he was saying that he was bringing people together, and he was the grown up, as he put it, in this fight, he was hanging tough on something and it was on that question of funding Planned Parenthood where the White House told reporters that when Speaker Boehner pushed for cutting money for Planned Parenthood, the president just said no.

MONTAGNE: And meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner's office produced its own storyline that was somewhat different from the White House's version.

ROBERTS: And it wasn't contradictory, necessarily, just emphasizing different things. Boehner publicly only talked about cutting spending. He never talked, publicly, about these social issues. He was trying to make it all about the deficit, even while Democrats were trying to make him seem out of the mainstream by emphasizing those social issues. Look, Boehner's also looking at those independent voters. He knows that they do care about the deficit.

So, in the end, the only really significant policy issues that ended up in this package were some affecting the District of Columbia. One saying it cannot use its own money to fund abortions, and another continuing a voucher program for kids to go to private and parochial schools - something near and dear to Boehner's heart. He worked with then-living Senator, Ted Kennedy, on inner-city Catholic schools here in the District of Columbia, and that was something he cared deeply about.

MONTAGNE: So, Cokie, what now? Is there a way to avoid these dramatic countdowns to crisis in the future? I mean, there's some pretty big dramatic issues coming up.

ROBERTS: True. I mean, we got to this crisis 'cause the Democrats failed to fund the government when they were supposed to last year, 'cause they didn't want to take those votes before an election. Rough votes coming up now: a debt ceiling that has to be increased where Republicans have promised Armageddon and the 2012 budget, which will be voted on in the House this week.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Cokie Roberts, who offers political analysis, on this program, most Monday mornings. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.