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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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

You can say that politics is a battle of ideas. You can call it the art of the possible. But often enough, politics is all about money and that's especially true of the politics we'll describe this morning.

Over the weekend, President Bush approved the plan to keep the federal government operating. And he took a shot at Congress as he did so.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Today, I am signing emergency legislation to fund the federal government for the next seven weeks. This legislation was necessary because Congress failed in its most basic responsibility: to pass the spending bills that fund the day-to-day operations of the government.

INSKEEP: Congress is still debating a dozen giant spending bills for the fiscal year that begins today.

Joining us, as she does each Monday, is NPR's senior news analyst Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are they arguing about here?

ROBERTS: Oh, this is of tried and true argument about spending. As you say, about money to fund the government and priorities of what programs should get money and which ones shouldn't. The president is threatening to veto democratic spending bills, returning to old arguments about tax-and-spend Democrats. The Democrats say, look, he didn't veto any Republican spending bills, and they spent more than we did.

In truth, Congress is somewhat relieved to get away from the non-stop argument about Iraq. But that, of course, underlies this whole conversation because of the cost of the Iraq War. But by making this stand, the president is returning to old Republican themes and at least pleasing the conservative Republicans who've been very upset about the deficits.

INSKEEP: They're trying to please conservatives on that issue, but they don't seem too happy with their presidential candidates, do they?

ROBERTS: In fact, a group of conservatives met over the weekend - called the Council on National Policy. And some of them - the most influential among them: James Dobson, the radio host, threatening to go to a third party if the Republicans support - nominate Rudy Giuliani.

They still hadn't found a candidate, Steve. We've talked about this. Fred Thompson is not doing it for them. Other conservatives tell these folks that if they go to third party that they can elect Democrats. But what you're seeing right now is a lot of Republicans thinking that's likely to happen anyway. The latest Gallup Poll has the Republicans that are 59 percent unfavorable rating. So, there are a lot of people ready to play games to just get their own ideas out there.

INSKEEP: We should mention, I suppose, the conservatives - some of them, anyway, don't like Giuliani because he supports abortion rights among other issues.

ROBERTS: Other things. Right.

INSKEEP: And as they look for a candidate, I suppose Newt Gingrich is not going to be their man?

ROBERTS: No. He announced over the weekend that he will not run because - could - if he did run, he'd have to step away from his organization, American Solutions, because the campaign finance law says that he must do that. He then railed against that law and said he could've done it. He was raising money.

But then, he went on to talk about the presidential campaign and do his own political analysis, which is always very interesting coming from Newt Gingrich. He, of course, said that Hillary Clinton is the candidate to beat, that she's very strong, a brilliant politician, and her husband is the most brilliant political thinker.

Now, part of that is, of course, to scare these conservatives, because she is a person who is raised as, you know, this - the terrifying liberal that they don't want to see in the White House. But part of it is that he's just giving he's straight analysis. And he also went through the Republican candidates and was favorable toward all of them. But then said a very interesting thing that Mike Huckabee would be the very formidable candidate if he had money.

And that's where that money thing comes back that you were talking about, Steve. Today is the deadline for the third quarter, and we'll see where all these candidates come out money wise.

INSKEEP: We also heard some analysis from this other politician leftover from the '90s, Bill Clinton?

ROBERTS: And - surprise, surprise, he's for his wife. But he was interesting about that. He said she's been beat up on for 16 years. You don't want to reward the Republican attack machine. In other words, if Democrats don't support her, they're doing that. He also talked about his own role if she's elected.

Here's what he said on ABC's This Week.

President BILL CLINTON: I'll do whatever she asked me to do. But it's important to know that she will be the policymaker, the decider.

ROBERTS: She'll be the decider. He also does his Republican analysis and said that Mike Huckabee is the best speaker the Republicans have. So, something of endorsements from Gingrich and Clinton, for Mike Huckabee over the weekend.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Okay. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts. She joins us every Monday morning.

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