Congress Can Expect Earful After Budget Votes

This week Congress finished up the 2011 budget fight and started right in on 2012. NPR's Andrea Seabrook talks with Weekend All Things Considered guest host Noah Adams about the budget battle that ended and the new one in the works.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

Joining us now to put this whole week into perspective is NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Hi, Noah.

ADAMS: A week that was really - it had two different things going on. The bill that funds the government through September - that's the end of the fiscal year - and then the longer term plans for cutting the federal deficit. Why are they doing all of this in the same week on Capitol Hill?

SEABROOK: You know, I wondered the same thing all week, Noah...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: ...as you can imagine. The thing is when you have divided government and you have the Republicans well in control of the House, the Democrats mostly in control of the Senate and then Obama in the White House, the only thing that's actually ever going to go through, especially when there's as much sort of vitriol as there is now, is what they call must-pass legislation, things that if it doesn't pass, there are dire consequences.

So the federal government shuts down if this doesn't pass, or the federal government defaults on its debt if something doesn't pass. Those are the only bills that we really expect to become law this spring.

And so it all sort of came together at the same time with the problem of the federal government shutting down without funding and the parties found themselves in a situation where they actually had to compromise on something.

What came out was so distasteful, though, to many Republicans that House Speaker John Boehner and Republican leaders had to throw something better at them, the longer-term budget that, you know, ends Medicare as we know it and other entitlements.

ADAMS: Now, I gather the plan - that plan, too, is not so much loved by all Republicans.

SEABROOK: Right, the one that privatizes Medicare especially. They did vote for them, most of them did. But they are worried about it, especially those Republicans that just ran against Democrats, claiming the Democrats were slashing Medicare. They're in a really tough situation here.

They don't want to turn seniors against the party, especially since senior citizens tend to skew to the right right now and younger people tend to skew left. But they also don't want to make the Tea Party mad. It's just the Republican coalition is not hanging together right now. They're having a really hard time not fighting against each other at every turn.

ADAMS: And it's turning out to be a difficult job for House Speaker John Boehner.

SEABROOK: Yeah. In fact, he couldn't have passed that short-term bill I'm talking about, that bipartisan bill that keeps the government open, without the help of Democrats. I mean, 59 Republicans voted against their own party's bill, and almost half of those no votes were freshmen, the ones who gave the Republicans the majority in the first place.

So not exactly a big vote of confidence in the speaker. He's got to prove himself to those freshmen and Tea Party types. At the same time, the idea of slashing Medicare really tends to alienate the moderates that are left in the Republican Party. So it's a tough job for him right now.

ADAMS: And so now here comes spring break. Lawmakers get to go back. Do they hear applause from the people at home, or do they hear feistiness?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Feistiness probably; from some, applause. The lawmakers who have a lot of senior citizens in their districts are bracing themselves because that privatization plan on Medicare, they don't like it. Lawmakers who have a lot of Tea Party constituents, they're bracing themselves because the Tea Party groups really hated the compromise that keeps the government open through September.

And here's another thing, I mean, they have got to start fundraising. This is going to be a big fundraising couple of weeks, because the fight is on for 2012. Almost everything that you hear on Capitol Hill these days is a bid by one party or the other to be in control of government after 2012. And that makes the most important constituents of all to many lawmakers, as they go home for spring break, their donors.

ADAMS: NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook. Thank you, Andrea.

SEABROOK: Thanks, Noah.

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