Budget Update: What Still Has To Be Negotiated?

Lawmakers worked through the night on budget negotiations to try to avert a government shutdown. Renee Montagne talks with NPR's Mara Liasson about what is still to be negotiated and what is blocking progress.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Just hours remain for congressional negotiators to agree on a budget and avoid a shutdown of the federal government. For the second time in a row, President Obama made a late-night appearance in the White House Briefing Room to offer an update on the negotiations.

President BARACK OBAMA: Once again, the staff is going to be working tonight around the clock in order to see if we can finally close a deal. But there are still a few issues that are outstanding. They're difficult issues. They're important to both sides, and so I'm not yet prepared to express wild optimism. But I think we are further along today than we were yesterday.

MONTAGNE: As the government faces the real possibility of shutting down tonight at midnight, we turn to NPR's Mara Liasson to find out what is still to be negotiated. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with the obstacles to a deal.

LIASSON: Well, the obstacles sound like they're very small. They're talking about one-half of one percent of the budget for the year, and it's not even the money that they're arguing about anymore. It's abortions in the District of Columbia or restrictions on the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases - these are the so-called policy riders. You don't hear the two sides talking about these much in public.

I think one way to look at this is that they're having a hard time finding a deal that each side can sell to their members as a victory. And that has been hard particularly for Speaker Boehner, who hasn't been able to satisfy his Tea Party freshmen, many of whom do not share his concern about the political consequences of a government shutdown, or some of his social issue conservatives.

MONTAGNE: So, though as you say, it's not so much about the money, it still is a very high stakes debate, right, politically?

LIASSON: Oh, very high stakes. You know, it's not like we're talking about reducing the debt or the deficit or the size of government - those big, truly consequential debates that are right around the corner. We're talking about pennies, really, $5 billion in difference. We're talking about the tiniest slice of federal spending.

But you're right. The political risks for both sides - if the government shuts down over this - are huge. It will be seen as a real failure of leadership all around. It'll hurt the president, who will have failed in his quest to make Washington work and to bring both sides together. He'll look ineffectual.

Speaker Boehner will look like he can't handle his new majority. And it will hurt the public's and the market's confidence in the ability of the government to solve the really big problems, since they couldn't even solve this tiny dispute without shutting the government down.

MONTAGNE: So we have a whole day, or barely a day, to wait. In fact, not even a full day to wait, to see if this really happens at midnight tonight. But what happens now?

LIASSON: Well, the staffs continue to work. As you heard the president say, they worked all night long. They do have until midnight tonight. Meanwhile, the government agencies continue making plans for a shutdown. There are all sorts of contingency plans that are going into effect. And we all watch and wait.

MONTAGNE: And we will be doing exactly that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: ...as we go through the day, because this is a very important story. And in its way, a very exciting story.

NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Renee.

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