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NPR News

Shutdown Prevented By Last-Minute Deal

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Guy Raz is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

As early as Monday of this week, news stations began running countdown clocks, ticking away to a government shutdown. If those clocks had reached zero with no budget deal, parts of the government would have closed and around 800,000 federal employees would have been furloughed. Both houses of Congress and the president negotiated to the last minute, leaving the country on the edge of its seat.

Ms. DEBORAH FEYERICK (Correspondent, CNN): Thirteen hours left for lawmakers to reach a budget deal and prevent that government shutdown.

Unidentified Woman #1: Twelve hours to go.

Unidentified Man #1: Less than nine hours left until the federal government...

Unidentified Man #2: ...to shutdown just six hours from now.

Unidentified Man #3: In five hours and counting...

Unidentified Man #4: Four hours and 44 minutes.

Unidentified Man #5: Four and a half hours.

Unidentified Man #6: Countdown to the shutdown. Now we're at the three hours...

Mr. SEAN HANNITY (Host, "RealClearPolitics"): We are nearing the midnight hour. At which time, the federal government will effectively shutdown. And no deal...

Unidentified Man #7: ...shutting down.

Unidentified Woman #2: Shutdown.

Unidentified Woman #3: Shutdown.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; Speaker of the House): Good evening, everyone. I'm pleased that Senator Reid and I and the White House have been able to come to an agreement that will, in fact, cut spending and keep our government open.

WERTHEIMER: That was Speaker of the House John Boehner announcing the last-minute deal that prevented that government shutdown. The proposed budget bill would trim $39 billion from current government spending.

Joining us to talk more about what will be in that package is NPR's Capitol Hill reporter Audie Cornish.

So, Audie, in the end, how did it come together?

AUDIE CORNISH: Essentially, negotiators shook hands on the deal around 10:30 last night, and it went right to the wire, of course, because the government was slated to shut down at midnight.

Two things changed. One, Democrats were able to negotiate more of the spending cuts to come from mandatory spending, such as entitlement programs. And they also were able to cut another $3 billion from defense programs.

The second thing that happened is that there was some movement made with some of the controversial provisions of the bill known as policy writers. And the most controversial one was about family planning programs, funding for women's health and clinics around the country. And now, that vote is going to be held essentially separately from the final budget bill.

WERTHEIMER: And it's also true, isn't it, that the Democrats came up on the number.

CORNISH: They did. I mean, essentially, Democrats have come up quite far from the number they originally had pitched way back a few weeks ago, which is, you know, started out at $6 billion or something like that. And in the end, this deal is roughly thirty-eight and a half. And they had to come up in number in order to get Republicans to back off those controversial policy provisions that Democrats have been fighting.

WERTHEIMER: So something for everybody in this package. Who's happy about it the morning after?

CORNISH: Well, maybe as a sign of good compromise, no one is. Talking to some Democrats today, they're saying we should not have been in a position for the government to shut down, that this went too far. Talking to some Republicans today, talked to a freshman with some Tea Party backing, and he essentially said this is a drop in the bucket. You know, this is a tiny amount of spending. At the end of the day, this bill would reduce the deficit by 2.5 percent.

And they felt like they didn't get all the cuts they wanted and they didn't get a lot of the policy provisions that they wanted. What they're hoping is that -Republicans anywhere are hoping that this sets the stage for further discussions down the line, the next budget, 2012, and maybe the raising of the debt ceiling.

WERTHEIMER: But we are finished with 2011?

CORNISH: We're kind of finished with 2011. Right now, you've got the Appropriations Committee staff working on each little detail, because essentially, lawmakers voted on this slight unseen. They don't even really exactly know what's in it. But the appropriators right now are trying to figure out line by line which programs will get which exact amount of the trim. And you're going to see a final vote. You're going to see this move through both chambers in the middle of this week.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Audie.

CORNISH: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's congressional reporter Audie Cornish. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.