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Hopes Of Budget Deal Hinge On House GOP

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

It is now nearly 10 o'clock in Washington, D.C., and there is still no agreement to fund the federal government beyond midnight. There have been reports throughout the evening that a deal was near and that the Republican's lead negotiator, House Speaker John Boehner, was ready to make that deal, but the key factor remains the vote of the House Republican majority, which has been reluctant to accept a compromise with President Obama and the Democrats.

Joining us from the capital tonight is NPR's congressional correspondent David Welna. And, David, at this hour, the Republicans have gathered in conference to hear, apparently, the details of a deal, or are you hearing that a deal is actually not yet struck?

DAVID WELNA: What I'm hearing right now from House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman is that he cannot confirm that there is a deal. I just got this message a couple of minutes ago, and I've also seen other sources saying that no deal is done yet.

Now, we don't know if Boehner's going to go in and talk to his House Republicans and say, look, this is what I've been able to get negotiating with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. We've gotten this much in terms of spending cuts from the Democrats that's said to be $39 billion. The Democrats sort of started out negotiating at $33 billion.

And there are reports also that many of the policy riders are - probably all of the policy riders that had complicated this negotiation have been removed from this deal in exchange for Democrats making bigger concessions in terms of spending cuts.

What we don't know, though, is whether those spending cuts will be sufficient to satisfy the many conservative House Republicans who had demanded that Boehner stick with the $61 billion in cuts that they approved in February in the House.

BLOCK: And those policy riders that you mentioned, David, these include things like the funding of planned parenthood, funding of women's health programs. I'm trying to figure out how John Boehner tries to sell this deal if it is so far down from the 61 billion that the House originally approved and that the Tea Party's been pushing for. And if those policy riders are gone, how does he sell this to his caucus?

WELNA: I think he can say that he got more spending cut concessions from the Democrats than anyone had imagined and that they should declare a victory right now rather than be the ones who might take the blame for the government shutting down.

This - a government shutdown has a potential to be very, very damaging to Republicans. It could be damaging to Democrats as well. But I think if the government is shut down because of a quarrel over just a small range of billions of dollars when really we're facing problems more in the trillions with our budget, a lot of people would look at the people here in Congress and say, what's going on here? Are these people ever going to get us out of this mess?

BLOCK: Speaking of that shutdown, David - we just have a little bit of time left, but it's just a couple of hours before midnight, Eastern Time. What can Congress actually do at this point to avert a shutdown?

WELNA: Well, the - a short-term stopgap spending bill, kind of a Band- Aid to get them into next week to finish up any kind of a deal that they might be trying to get for the longer period out today under the fiscal year. There is a three-day deal that one Republican senator says he has ready to go. There's another one that says we will fund all of our troops out to be sure that they don't suffer any consequences of the shutdown. Those bills would have to go through both the Senate and House tonight before midnight if we're going to avoid a shutdown.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's David Welna in Capitol Hill. David, thanks so much.

WELNA: You're welcome, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.