Government Stays Closed As Spending Standoff Drags On

The government shutdown standoff continued Thursday, with the House Republicans continuing to pass small spending bills for specific programs, and the Senate Democrats reminding them that a single House vote would let all programs be funded immediately.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now we're going to sort through the various interpretations of what is or isn't going on to resolve the government shutdown with NPR's congressional reporter Ailsa Chang. Hi there, Ailsa.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Hi there.

CORNISH: So we heard the congresswoman mention these various bills the House is pushing to fund different popular departments of the government. But at the same time, Senate Democrats are saying no to a partial government reopening. So how are they justifying that position?

CHANG: Well, they're basically saying it's not up to the House Republicans to pick which parts of the government get funded and which don't. I mean, the strategy here for House Republicans is to force Democrats into rejecting spending, specifically on things like national parks, veterans' programs, the National Guard, the NIH - stuff everyone agrees is very important. And Republicans have been trying to drum up a lot of emotion around these particular bills.

In fact, this morning, they held a press conference about NIH funding. And Republican Renee Ellmers, of North Carolina - who used to be a nurse - said it would be cruel to deny funding to NIH because the families seeking care there are families in really critical situations.

REPRESENTATIVE RENEE ELLMERS: If you've ever seen the looks on a parent's face when they're told that their child has cancer, and then you take their hope away, the moment that they know that they can fight for it, they will.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, Senate Democrats, I gather, have already acted to reject these funding bills?

CHANG: Right. Despite these emotional pleas this morning, a few Republican senators who had tried to bring up these individual bills one-by-one were blocked. Senate leaders rejected each of the proposals. And each time, these Senate leaders countered with their original proposal - the bill the Senate has already passed - that funds all of these governments - all of these programs, all of the government.

And Harry Reid, the majority leader, wanted to make it very clear on the floor today. Of course he wants to fund each of these individual programs the House wants to fund, he says. But, he says this.

SENATOR HARRY REID: But we also are not going to choose between veterans, cancer research, disease control, highway safety or the FBI. And we're not going to give a blank check to the junior senator from Texas to pick his favorite parts of the government on a daily basis.

CHANG: And there, Reid is referring to Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, who's been the main architect behind the strategy of using spending bills as leverage against the Affordable Care Act. Essentially, Reid is saying we will not give Cruz a veto over what gets funding in the government and what doesn't.

CORNISH: Ailsa, now the deadline for the debt ceiling is, of course, quickly approaching. October 17th is when the government will no longer be able to pay its bills. What are the chances this deadlock is going to head right into that debate?

CHANG: It's looking more and more likely at this point. You know, both the president and Senate leaders have said they are not even going to begin to consider negotiating until after the government re-opens and after Congress has authorized additional borrowing. So at this point, the spending bill and the debt limit are interlocked. In fact, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York said earlier today that Senate Democrats are not budging on a clean spending bill, because everyone has the debt ceiling in mind.

If Senate Democrats relented on a clean spending bill, Schumer says this is what conservative Republicans would say.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: The hard right says: See, by holding a gun to their heads, we got something we wanted. We'll up the ante this time. So it's not the specific proposal - device tax doesn't seem like that much of Obamacare - it's the method. We're going to threaten and shut the government down until you agree with us.

CHANG: And now there are some reports that Speaker Boehner might help Democrats raise the debt ceiling by relying on Democratic votes in the House, just as he did to pass the fiscal cliff deal and the Violence Against Women Act. But he hasn't explicitly said yet whether he's going to do that.

CORNISH: That's NPR's congressional reporter Ailsa Chang. Ailsa, thank you.

CHANG: You're welcome.

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