Week In Politics: Spending Showdown, GOP Primary

David Greene talks with NPR's Cokie Roberts about the week in politics, including the possibility of a government shutdown on Friday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

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

DAVID GREENE, Host:

And I'm David Greene.

Members of the U.S. Senate did not expect to be coming to work today. They were supposed to be home for the Jewish holidays.

INSKEEP: Their plans changed because, yet again, the government is facing the possibility of a shutdown. Once again, a fight over spending is a pushing up against a deadline. If lawmakers do not make a deal, the government could close for business.

GREENE: This time the sticking point is a measure to keep funding the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which could run out of cash to help victims of floods, earthquakes and hurricanes as early as tomorrow.

Here to explain what's going is NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us as she does most Mondays. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, David.

GREENE: So is Congress really going to the brink again and heading towards a possible shutdown over this issue?

ROBERTS: Well, leaders of both parties, especially the Republicans, say no. No government shutdown. At least they've caught on that that doesn't play well. But what neither party still seems to get, even after the awful summer where the federal securities were downgraded, even as economists say that the slowdown in growth and consumer confidence, and all the things that are holding down the economy, are at least in part due to the lack of confidence in the government's ability to fix anything, even with all of that, lawmakers don't seem to get how their actions are affecting the bigger picture.

So they're engaged in a fight about whether the money for disaster relief, which has always been allocated without any strings attached in the past, whether that should be offset by cuts in other spending. Democrats say no. Republicans say yes. And each side is trying to blame the other for the impasse.

The effect, of course, is - when we have these impasses - is to weaken the economy further. And lots of Democrats are saying maybe that's what the Republicans have in mind, because maybe they're trying to keep the economy in the doldrums in order to elect a Republican president next year.

GREENE: It sounds like a familiar battle. You mentioned that shutdowns don't play well - of course were talking politics - and I want to ask you about the campaign. When it comes to finding a Republican candidate to elect, the party seems to be having some problems. I mean Texas Governor Rick Perry seemed to be the frontrunner but he seems to be in a rough patch right now.

ROBERTS: Well, he had a very poor debate performance in Florida last week. And then there was the straw poll in Florida over the weekend that was won by Godfather Pizza man Herman Cain.

GREENE: Right.

ROBERTS: And then, Mitt Romney won in Michigan yesterday. But look, the party is still searching around because they're not fond of Mitt Romney, even though he is this sort of obvious frontrunner. And now there's a little talk of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie getting in, although that's highly unlikely.

Part of Romney's problem is that he is a Mormon, and with the base of the Republican Party, that's a problem. I think it probably wouldn't be so much in the general election. The Senators Udall have never had a problem being Mormon.

But what has happened as a result of the Republicans being in this primary situation is - is interesting on the bigger picture, David, because they have had to appeal to people who show up at primaries. And that is something that the Obama camp suddenly realized - wait, the good news is we have no primary opponent, they're saying. But the bad news is that we won't have energized the base the way the Republican nominee will have done.

So the president has spent the weekend trying to fix that. He went to the Congressional Black Caucus, said I'm taking off the bedroom ? take off your bedrooms slippers, put on your marching shoes. He had a couple of big fundraisers out West, where he went after the Republicans big time. So conciliation is over.

GREENE: Really starting to play to the base, it seems, from President Obama.

That's NPR's Cokie Roberts. Thanks as always for joining us, Cokie.

Mm-hmm.

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