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Deadlines loom for Congress

David Gura Dec 14, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: It’s Wednesday, the 14th of December, which means there are just 10 shopping days till Christmas, 17 days till the end of the year and something like 48 hours until the government runs out of money.


I know. We’ve been here before. But it does seem like this time the threat of a government shutdown just kind of snuck up on us. It’s just the first in a rolling series of time limits Congress is facing as it tries to wrap things up for the year. And we know how lawmakers love deadlines.

We’ve got Marketplace’s David Gura on the line from Washington to bring us up to date. Hey David.

David Gura: Hey Kai.

Ryssdal: So let’s take this chronologically, I guess, in order of looming deadlines: The government runs out of money on Friday, which would seem to be a fairly large deadline. What are they doing about this; what’s Congress doing about it?

Gura: This is the way they’ve been budgeting here in Washington, now for the past couple of months. They keep passing these short-term extensions for funding, and they did that again. So that one runs out on Friday. Negotiators have actually come together — both Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate — they’ve come up with a bill to keep the government funded until October of next year. A few little details to hammer out, but really the big issue here is when are they going to vote on that spending bill?

Ryssdal: So to be clear: Nothing’s been voted on, right?

Gura: That’s right.

Ryssdal: OK. What’s in these things? There must be some kind of hang-up some place.

Gura: Right. So this is an extension of funding as it is. But there are all sorts of riders or provisions in there that would change how agencies are funded — agencies that enforce Dodd-Frank, enforce financial reform — they’d see cuts to their budget. Also some cuts to the education department, to one of President Obama’s biggest education initiatives raised to the top. So it’s not totally straight ahead — there’s stuff in here that would change how parts of the federal government are funded.

Ryssdal: All right. That’s the first deadline, that’s Friday, the government running out of money. Assuming we solve that one, there’s another one they’re working on — that’s the extension of unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut, which is valid through the end of the year, right? So where are we there?

Gura: Just a couple of weeks left there. So the payroll tax cut affects about 160 million Americans. Yesterday, the House voted to extend that payroll tax cut, that would be a one-year extension. There’s stuff in that extension that the Democrats don’t like: a number of EPA regulations would be scaled back; and there’s this really big stumbling block, and that is Republicans want the president to decide really soon — within 60 days — whether or not to build this oil pipeline that goes from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Ryssdal: The Keystone XL, right?

Gura: That’s right. So he said that that decision won’t get made until 2013. They say, look, this has the potential to create a lot of jobs, let’s do that sooner rather than later. Democrats say that’s a non-starter; this bill, if it includes that Keystone XL provision — dead-on-arrival in the Senate. The president said he’s going to veto it. What Democrats want to do is pay for the payroll tax cut extension by taxing millionaires.

Ryssdal: Are the unemployment benefits in that same bill?

Gura: They are, but the House said they want to extend those, but the maximum amount of time you can get unemployment benefits right now, that’s 99 weeks. They want to scale that down to 59 weeks max.

Ryssdal: And just to put a point on it, they want to get out of there for the holidays, right? They’re leaving town on Friday?

Gura: That’s right. Their vacation is supposed to start on Friday. I think there’s consensus here that’s probably not going to happen. They’re probably going to have to work through the weekend, Kai.

Ryssdal: All right, David Gura in Washington on the state of Congress. David, thanks a lot.

Gura: Thanks Kai.

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