Latest Round Of Budget Battles To Begin On Capitol Hill

Unemployment insurance is at the top of the list for President Obama as Congress returns to Washington, but the big budget battles still loom.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As we said, those unemployment benefits will be a big topic for lawmakers as they return to work in Washington this week. But that is just the beginning. It also time for the latest round of budget battles.

Cokie Roberts is with us as she is most Mondays. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: How was your holiday?

ROBERTS: Great. Yours?

GREENE: It was very good, thank you.

ROBERTS: Good.

GREENE: So didn't Congress work some of this out when it comes to budget disagreements at the end of 2013?

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, they did and it might all work. But that unemployment vote, by the way, the test vote on unemployment insurance extension, could come as soon as tonight.

GREENE: Wow.

ROBERTS: And the Democrats are seeing this as a big issue to take into the 2014 election. We'll see whether they're right about that or not.

GREENE: The midterm elections, we should say. It's going to be another big topic this year.

ROBERTS: Absolutely and hovering over everything, of course. But the appropriations committees, those money spending committees, did - the staffers did meet over the holidays and there seems to be a good bit of confidence that they will actually have something ready for the Congress to vote on and that we will avert any kind of government shutdown. So I think that you are likely to see that, at least, proceeding.

GREENE: So we had this agreement at the end of the year, which sounded like the two sides came together sort of in theory, but now the appropriations committees are actually doing the nuts and bolts work to try and make this a reality.

ROBERTS: That's right. You know, that is the actual spending bills, which is, of course, what Congress is supposed to do in individuals bills, but they've wrapped it all together in this one big bill and there might be some individual bills pulled out of it, but we'll see.

GREENE: Well, if they do indeed get through this money battle and, you know, there's always a question before it's actually said and done, I mean do we go through all of this over again with the debt limit come next month? I mean these things just come one after the other.

ROBERTS: I think not. Now, the president, again, says he won't negotiate over the government going to default. The Republicans, once again, say they have to get something for voting to extend the debt limit, whether - so we'll see whether they are going to really dig in their heels. I think not, that they feel like they didn't win anything on that last year.

And we'll also see whether Speaker Boehner's fed-up attitude toward the adamant minority of his caucus, which we saw at the end of last year, is sustainable. Now, there were meetings over the holidays in the D.C. area of the Tea Partiers and their allies, and they say they're girded for a fight against what they deem the Republican establishment, but mainly on social issues rather than economic issues.

So I think Boehner can probably keep the government going through the debt limit with the help of the Republican business community, so that crisis is averted. Then the question is whether he can keep pushing against those Tea Partiers and their allies to do immigration reform, which he clearly does want to do.

GREENE: It seems he clearly does want to do it and what kind of chance does he have in this dynamic in the Republican Party to push an immigration through the House?

ROBERTS: Well, it's going to be obviously very tough. I think if you get through the spring where there's some Republican primaries and you see if Republican incumbents are challenged from the right, if they are not and if it looks like they are somewhat safe, then I think he probably will bring up a series of immigration bills, break it up into different bills, one on border security, one on work visas, one on amnesty, and then put together different coalitions behind each one of those bills.

That's what happened, you know, in the famous compromise of 1850 with Henry Clay. He couldn't get it through as one great big bill and then Stephen Douglas came through and broke it up into individual parts, California in as a free state, slavery outlawed in D.C., Fugitive Slave Act(ph) enforced, and you've got different coalitions behind different ones and staved off the Civil War for 10 years.

GREENE: Something that Washington - you can look back even more than a century ago to history and learn some lessons. Well, Cokie, speaking of potential primary fights in the Republican Party, it sounds like one person who was going to be challenging an incumbent, Liz Cheney, is set to drop out of the Wyoming Senate race. What do we know about that this morning?

ROBERTS: She has issued a statement saying serious health issues have recently arisen in our family and under the circumstances I've decided to discontinue my campaign. Look, she was running 30 to 40 points behind Mike Enzi, and she - that primary wasn't till August, but she has run into serious family problems, saying she was against gay marriage, her gay sister saying that relegated her to second class citizenship. That's tough in a family.

GREENE: All right. Cokie Roberts, always good to be with you. Have a good week.

ROBERTS: You too, David.

GREENE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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