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Senate May Need Every Minute To Meet Government Funding Deadline

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Congress has until tomorrow to pass a spending bill to avoid another government shutdown. For weeks and weeks, congressional leaders have said they will meet that deadline without drama. The House expects to vote on a $1 trillion spending package tomorrow, the very day of the deadline. And as NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, that does not leave the Senate much time.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Figuring out how to spend a trillion dollars with just enough perks for both sides to ensure the whole bill can pass is no small feat. Yesterday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid grumbled about how Democrats have had to fend off 100 or so items the other side had demanded.

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SENATOR HARRY REID: There's going to come a time when they have to take yes for an answer. I guess they're not there yet. There are still factions within the Republican Party who want extreme measures. You've all heard them just like I have.

CHANG: But in the end, negotiators on both sides won and lost. Republicans got language to defund a referendum Washington, D.C. voters passed to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Democrats got to hang on to some nutritional requirements for school lunches. And, of course, the agency implementing the president's executive action on immigration will get funding through the beginning of 2015. House Republican Matt Salmon of Arizona called that part nothing but a punt. He's not voting for any bill that funds any part of the executive action, even for a few months. To him, it's like sticking up to a bully.

REPRESENTATIVE MATT SALMON: Are you going to go ahead and fight him and get beat up and all bloodied up? I guess my point is, if he's harming one of my children, then I'm going to risk it. And this, to me, is a constitutional issue. And I think it's important enough that we fight the fight.

CHANG: Even if Republicans like Salmon got outvoted in the House on Thursday, the Senate would only have a few hours to pass the bill afterwards. It could get done if every single senator agreed to fast-track the usual process. But Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama hinted slowing things down wouldn't be out of the question.

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS: I'm going to do what I can to see that Congress has an effective way to curtail the president's unlawful actions.

CHANG: OK, so the backup plan, Congress can also pass a really short, short-term spending bill, that would last just a couple of days, to keep the government open while lawmakers eat into their holiday break to pass the larger spending measure. Crisis averted, but Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina calls this whole process sloppy lawmaking.

REPRESENTATIVE LINDSEY GRAHAM: This is not the way you'd run a railroad. Putting all these bills together in a big pile at the end leads to a lot of chicanery. It leads to a lot of lack of information and suspicion. And I hope, as a Republican majority, we will not do this again to the country.

CHANG: Graham and his Republican colleagues will get their first opportunity to show how they'd do it when funding for the Department of Homeland Security runs out at the end of February. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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