Congress Is Back: Here's The September To-Do List Lawmakers have less than two weeks of legislative days to head off a government shutdown, raise the nation's borrowing limit and provide financial assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
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6 Priorities Congress Has To Deal With In 12 Days

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6 Priorities Congress Has To Deal With In 12 Days

6 Priorities Congress Has To Deal With In 12 Days

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Congress is back in Washington, and it's going to be a hectic September. Lawmakers were already facing urgent deadlines to avert a government shutdown and to raise the nation's debt limit. But then Hurricane Harvey hit, and today the Trump administration announced a six-month phaseout of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It's the Obama-era program that provides temporary legal status to those who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. Well, Congress now has until March to come up with a legislative solution, but some leaders in Congress want to add it to September's to-do list.

Joining us now is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hello, Susan.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: How are lawmakers responding to President Trump's decision to put it to Congress to address the fate of people in the DACA program?

DAVIS: Two of the Senate's leaders on this issue, Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, held a press conference today. And in their own way, both of them say this is an opportunity for Congress to finally act on this legislation. Senator Durbin said that now was as good a time as any. And here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

RICHARD DURBIN: So we have plenty of time, right? Not by Senate standards we don't. Who knows what next month's topic du jour is going to be? Is it going to be Kim Jong Un? Is it going to be Irma, Harvey? What's it going to be? Let's move and do it now. That's why we think it's important to make the DREAM Act the law of the land now.

DAVIS: Now, Senator Durbin is the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, but he is not in the majority. So a note of caution here - Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has not yet committed to acting on this in September. What we do know is there is real bipartisan interest in doing it now versus waiting for March.

SIEGEL: But this is not a novel problem. The first version of the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for these kids and young adults, was introduced 16 years ago. If Congress hasn't been able to pass a bill over the past 16 years, what confidence do lawmakers have that they can do it by March?

DAVIS: There is good reason to be skeptical they can - they cannot do it. However, Senator Graham said today that he believed that this might be just the right time and a unique opportunity. Here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: To those in the Republican Party who vote no, I respect it. I respect your decision. But let's have a healthy debate. Make the case that these kids don't belong here. I'll say I'm going to make the case they do. And we're all going to vote. So from a Republican Party point of view, this is a defining moment.

DAVIS: Now, Senator Graham said he believes that half of all Senate Republicans would vote for the DREAM Act if a vote on it was held today. He believes that the House is going to be a tougher climb, and that he called on President Trump to engage personally to get on the phones, to work the phones to try and get it done.

SIEGEL: Let's turn to Hurricane Harvey now. The administration has asked Congress for a nearly $8 billion aid package as an initial down payment. What's the status of that legislation?

DAVIS: The House is going to vote on that bill tomorrow morning. It's expected to pass with a big bipartisan vote. It then heads immediately to the Senate, where they are hopeful for an equally quick and bipartisan vote.

SIEGEL: And the administration is asking Congress to attach to the hurricane legislation a clean debt limit increase that has no strings attached. Republicans have resisted that approach in the past. This time?

DAVIS: It seems to be moving in that direction despite the objections still of some conservatives. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the floor today indicated they will be linking those two bills for precisely the reason that that's what the Trump administration is asking them to do.

SIEGEL: One other point. Donald Trump over the August recess suggested that he might be willing to shut down the government if Congress sends him a spending bill that doesn't include any money for the border wall with Mexico. How seriously are lawmakers taking that threat?

DAVIS: You know, the White House has walked back its tone on that front. Harvey has obviously shifted the political calculation there, and the optics of shutting down the government when thousands of Americans are in need is just not a very strategic move. Plus, we have Hurricane Irma coming that's threatening Florida. So expect at least a short-term measure to keep the government open by the end of the month.

SIEGEL: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis at the Capitol. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You bet.

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