Much To Do For Congress After Recess
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Having approved a stimulus plan and a budget, Congress now faces the task of doing everything else. The budget was essentially an outline, sort of like a New Year's resolution to spend only so much on restaurant meals and only so much on clothes. Next week, lawmakers have to return to Washington and work out exactly how they will get that done. NPR News analyst Juan Williams joins us now.
Juan, Good morning.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So where do they start?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, you heard some of it yesterday in the president's speech on the economy. He spoke about a need to do more in terms of health care, specifically, and then you move on to things like energy and more regulations of financial markets.
It really is an interesting moment, because here you have an opportunity for the president to advance his agenda even after - I mean, in the first 88 days or so of this Congress they passed the $787 billion stimulus bill, another $410 billion spending bill. And then they've got that huge budget - $3.6 trillion for 2010.
But with all that said, he then moves on to now really going into the minutia of how do you deal with health care, how do you deal with energy, how do you regulate the market? And, of course, he's also got immigration looming out there.
INSKEEP: Right. Because they've approved budget lines saying we're reserving so much for health care, say, or reserving so much to remake the entire way that we use energy in this country. But then there's the details of what Congress can sign onto, what lobbyists will allow or not allow, and how that gets worked out.
WILLIAMS: Right. So it's a far more deliberative and at times more difficult process, because he won't have the kind of momentum he did in the first 88 days or so of the Congress.
INSKEEP: So what does he do in the next 88 days?
WILLIAMS: Well, the key here - let's look at health care for a second - is, you know, funding. If you expand coverage for the uninsured then you've got to find a way to pay for it. And he's got Republicans and an increasing number of moderate Democrats concerned about the huge budget deficit - $2 trillion or so for '09, this very year.
So health care discussions will include, you know, things like, you know, who'll be covered, what procedures will be covered and at what price. And, of course, you know, he's talked about his own mother at 53 who died of ovarian cancer. And meanwhile, the Republicans are talking about the idea that there are going to be long lines and rationing if you have government involved in making these decisions. That's what the lobbyists will be arguing who are against this kind of plan.
So what you see in that little drama there is just a slice of the kind of larger deliberations that are going to happen between now and let's say September, which is when the Congress is scheduled do have some kind of health care bill on the president's desk for his signature.
INSKEEP: Can the president, to some degree, dictate the details - or at least some of them because he's got such a high approval rating?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, that's an interesting one, because his approval rating is really that of a president who was a very polarized electorate, Steve. Republicans are increasingly disapproving of him, in large part because of deficits and what they argue is too much spending that will burden future generations. So it's only about 27 percent of Republicans right now who approve of this president.
Meanwhile, you've got 88 percent approval among Democrats, and Independents right now, in the 60 percent range. So it's highly polarized. And he's got to, right now, worry about, well, how do I take advantage of the fact that I've got such strong Democratic support and Democrats controlling both the House and the Senate. That's the whole calculus.
INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR News analyst Juan Williams joining us this morning.
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