Congress Quietly Extends The Budget — Past Election Day, Anyway Since the GOP retook the House, the chamber once brought the country to the brink of a debt default and once shut down the government. But in election years, including this one, there's no such drama.
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Congress Quietly Extends The Budget — Past Election Day, Anyway

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Congress Quietly Extends The Budget — Past Election Day, Anyway

Congress Quietly Extends The Budget — Past Election Day, Anyway

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/349717246/349756579" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here we are in September, also known as government shutdown season. But nobody is threatening a government shutdown.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In fact, the House and Senate passed a plan to keep the government running. It even funds the Affordable Care Act.

INSKEEP: Yet, this time there was no apocalyptic language.

CORNISH: No Tea Party filibuster.

INSKEEP: No chaos in the House of Representatives.

CORNISH: Republicans did not repeat past dramas over Obamacare. NPR's Ailsa Chang has the reason why; it's an election year.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Late last September, House Speaker John Boehner was in a miserable place. Some House Republicans were clamoring to defund the health care law, even if it meant shutting down the government. There was talk that Boehner's days as speaker were numbered. But this September, just one day before the house was set to vote on a comparable government spending bill, the mood was totally different. His office was cheerfully sending out videos like this, "A Day In The Life Of Speaker Boehner."

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "A DAY IN THE LIFE OF SPEAKER BOEHNER")

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: You know, I'll walk up to Starbucks and grab some coffee and walk back. It just kind of gets me moving - six o'clock in the morning.

CHANG: And just as nonchalantly as John Boehner walks up to Starbucks, most House Republicans agreed this week to keep the government open through mid-December. The difference between now and 2013?

REPRESENTATIVE LYNN WESTMORELAND: Especially now, when we do have a chance of winning the Senate, I think it's election-year politics that, you know, the government's not going to shut down.

CHANG: It's an election year, says House Republican Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia. And fellow Republican Bill Huizenga of Michigan says that means you don't resort to political stunts that could turn off voters.

REPRESENTATIVE BILL HUIZENGA: This is not worth the heartburn for anybody. We know that we're this close to an election. The American people are going to have to step up and figure out what direction we're going to go.

CHANG: Let's take a look at the even versus odd-numbered years since the Republicans took the House - 2014, smooth sailing, 2013, government shutdown, 2012, smooth sailing - well, until the fiscal cliff crisis. But that was after November - and, of course, 2011, the debt ceiling showdown. So did we escape a government shutdown this week simply because there's an election coming up? Peter King of New York says there was something else. Some people have just grown up.

REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING: I think that Ted Cruz and others like him have gone from pre-adolescence to adulthood in one year. They had a very quick learning lesson over the last year - no, seriously.

CHANG: And he's not only talking about the group of Republicans who got blamed for the shutdown. Steve King of Iowa says a whole swath of his colleagues had a change of heart.

REPRESENTATIVE STEVE KING: And we saw a couple of dozen Republicans say, I'll vote with the Democrats if I need to. But I'm not going to go through this stress anymore.

CHANG: And that shift in House Republican dynamics has strengthened Speaker Boehner's position within his caucus. Last fall, he had tried but failed to persuade his colleagues not to repeat the party's mistake in 1995, when Republicans led the country into two government shutdowns. Twenty years ago, a much younger Congressman John Boehner had actually supported those shutdowns.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOEHNER: It's a fight that we have to have. It's a fight that politicians in this town for 30 years have walked away from when it got to be tough.

CHANG: But Boehner learned a lesson, and many of his newer colleagues have now, too. And the speaker went on the offensive this primary season to secure party discipline by mobilizing large groups, like the Chamber of Commerce, to pump money into defeating Tea Party challengers. Now, Boehner has had some hurdles this year, like when conservatives pressured him to pull a border bill from the House floor in July. But otherwise, it's been a relatively disaster-free 2014. Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma says his caucus is finally beginning to get it - cut the drama, and focus on winning big in an election to ultimately get what you want, like repealing Obamacare.

REPRESENTATIVE TOM COLE: Until you get a Republican Senate and a Republican president to work with, it's going to be extremely difficult to repeal the whole thing. So picking that kind of fight right now just plays right into the hands of your political opponents and doesn't work.

CHANG: After the November election, though, all bets are off for a calm 2015. There might even be room for one showdown just before the new year because the government is scheduled to run out of funding in mid-December. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the capital.

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