No Government Shutdown Thanks To Last-Minute Deal

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It's not clear how close Congress is to resolving two nagging issues: extensions of both the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. What we do know is that nothing will be resolved until Monday. That's because the House has gone home for the weekend. But the government won't be shutting down Friday, as a result of a last-minute deal.


Senate negotiators appear to have reached a deal to extent the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits into next year. But it's only a temporary extension that would last just two months. This comes after a vote earlier today in the House on a spending measure that averted a government shutdown. NPR congressional reporter Tamara Keith joins me now from the Capitol, and Tamara, what are the broad outlines of this deal?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, it's this two month extension of the payroll tax holiday, unemployment insurance, the doc fix – which is related to Medicare reimbursements – and then also, it contains, and this is probably the most notable part, the keystone pipeline language. This is the controversial pipeline that we carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Republicans say that it's a real job creator, shovel-ready, and would create lots of jobs. Democrats are uneasy about it and have resisted, including a veto-threat from the president. It's in. Republicans got what they wanted on this.

BLOCK: And there are a lot of environmental concerns about that pipeline. Sounds like, Tamara, that Democrats made a big concession on it.

KEITH: Well, you could certainly say that. They, first, gave up the millionaire surtax, which is something they had been pushing for for months. And now, they get just a two-month extension and with the keystone pipeline language in it, though earlier today, you started to hear word from Democrats that, you know, that language actually allows the president to decide on the pipeline, so he could reject it. And also, Democrats, I think, on some level, are OK with a two-month extension because it means they get to fight this fight again and they feel like they were doing pretty well with that argument.

BLOCK: Get to fight it again, and as we say, just two months. Why just two months?

KEITH: Well, for one, we get to relive it on Groundhog Day, and also, it's simply they just couldn't come up with a deal on a longer term measure, and largely because of issues about how to pay for it because it's a lot of money we're talking about here.

BLOCK: Now, the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits extended for two months, this deal reached in the Senate, there has to be a vote. And is the House on board?

KEITH: So, the vote is expected to happen tomorrow most likely. As far as the House, Speaker John Boehner was asked earlier today about the possibility of a two-month deal, and all he would say is that if a two-month deal came to the House without the keystone pipeline in it, they'd send it back to the Senate. Well, they're getting a two-month deal with the keystone pipeline in it, so it seems possible that the House will be on board.

BLOCK: And we mentioned that earlier today the House passed the government spending measure. The Senate hasn't voted on that yet. And when is that expected to happen?

KEITH: Again, they're expecting a vote on that tomorrow as well. And that's a $1 trillion measure to keep the government funded right through October. And it's a compromise that got bipartisan support, actually more Democratic support than Republican support in the House.

BLOCK: OK. Bust weekend there on Capitol Hill. NPR's Tamara Keith, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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