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Congressional leaders did some hard bargaining in order to strike a down-to-the-wire deal on this year's budget. Today, both the Senate and the House are expected to vote on that deal. As advertised, the measure does chop spending, but it also discards a few other things - things that have little to do with spending. NPR's David Welna has the details.
DAVID WELNA: Lawmakers have had only the past two days to try to comb through everything in the budget bargain struck last Friday night. And some have been dismayed by what they've found.
Senator RON WYDEN (Democrat, Oregon): I was truly stunned.
WELNA: That's Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. What he found was that a provision he managed to include in the new healthcare law last year an option providing employer-paid vouchers to people who can't afford their workplace insurance and who don't qualify for subsidies is actually repealed in the budget deal, even though doing so saves no money.
Wyden can't get anyone who negotiated the deal to admit having pushed to do away with his provision, but he thinks he knows who was behind it.
Sen. WYDEN: It's clear that the Business Roundtable pulled out all the stops to kill this. They led the fight relentlessly to kill this.
Ms. JOHANNA SCHNEIDER (Business Roundtable): I believe that's inaccurate.
WELNA: That Johanna Schneider. She's a spokesperson for the Business Roundtable, an association of top executives from some of the nation's largest corporations. Schneider insists the Business Roundtable had nothing to do with Wyden's provision being repealed.
Ms. SCHNEIDER: We do not support the provision. We're not a fan of the provision. And the primary reason is we genuinely believe that it would change the risk pools for those covered employees. So we don't support it. But that does not equal, nor did it equal, that we lobbied to have it removed.
WELNA: Wyden, for his part, says he may end up voting against the budget deal.
Sen. WYDEN: I can't conceive of voting for this unless I'm told by the White House, the congressional leadership, you know, the principals, that there's going to be corrective action.
WELNA: In another part of the budget measure, gray wolves in the Rocky Mountain Northwest are taken off the protected list of endangered species.
Senator JON TESTER (Democrat, Montana): It's an opportunity to fix a problem through this legislation and we did it.
WELNA: That's Montana Democrat Senator Jon Tester. He freely admits having pushed to have the gray wolf, which was reintroduced to the Northwest in the mid-1990s, removed from the protected species list.
Sen. TESTER: We're dealing with a species that is fully recovered. We're dealing with a species that right now is having some very dramatic impacts on domestic livestock and wildlife. They need to be managed. It is obvious that they need to be managed.
WELNA: But Rodger�Schlickeisen, who's president of Defenders of Wildlife, says managing means killing gray wolves. Congress, he adds, should not be making that call.
Mr. RODGER SCHLICKEISEN (Defenders of Wildlife): This is the first time in all of the history of the Endangered Species Act that Congress has ever legislated to remove protection of a species. And we are, of course, extremely worried that this could represent some kind of a precedent and the Endangered Species Act could face further onslaught in coming months and coming years.
WELNA: So as it turns out, Congress will be voting today not only on a spending bill but also on the fate of more than 1,600 gray wolves in the northwest as well as the future of health insurance vouchers for possibly hundreds of thousands of workers. All in the name of keeping the government open and cutting the deficit.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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