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As Republicans Celebrate Tax Win, Government Shutdown Looms

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Republicans in Congress are taking a victory lap after passing their tax bill and thus securing their first major legislative win since taking control in January. But there's not a whole lot of time to party because a potential government shutdown is now looming. Congress has until midnight Friday to approve a new spending authorization, and there are still some potential hurdles to overcome. Republicans are jockeying with Democrats, and others in their own party even, over issues ranging from disaster relief to immigration policy.

Congressman Mike Coffman is a Republican from Colorado, and earlier this month he joined 33 of his Republican colleagues, demanding action that would protect the 800,000 so-called DREAMers living in this country. These are the young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients program. And the congressman joins us now on the line.

Thanks so much for being with us this morning, Congressman Coffman.

MIKE COFFMAN: Hey. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So you and your colleagues sent this letter to the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, calling for legislation to protect the DACA recipients and to do so by the end of the year. That's coming right up. Are you going to get what you asked for?

COFFMAN: You know what? We may not. But I think that, you know, time is really of the essence. This program will expire in March, will be rescinded in March. So it's so important that my colleagues, that at the speaker of the House understand how important this is to so many folks in my congressional district and across this country.

MARTIN: How did Speaker Ryan reply to your letter? I mean, what's the reasoning for not inserting some kind of DACA protections into a spending bill right now?

COFFMAN: Well, part of the problem, there's not really a consensus on what needs to be done. I'm in a bipartisan working group called (laughter) the Problem Solvers caucus. It is a group of Republicans...

MARTIN: You laugh. Are you not solving a lot of problems?

COFFMAN: (Laughter). We are solving problems. But it is a group of Republicans and Democrats that have come together to try to bridge the partisan divide in Washington, D.C. And it was basically last night - or, I'm sorry, the night before last that we, Problem Solvers, our caucus, our bipartisan caucus, just came up with an agreement on the DREAMers. That would involve basically a path to permanent residency for these young people that were brought to this country, albeit illegally, when they were children through military service, through education and through their work history, a path to permanent residency where why from there they can apply for a citizenship in this country.

MARTIN: So now you've got this plan. Is that something you can now use as leverage? I mean, the vote on the spending authorization doesn't happen for at least 24 hours. I mean, is this something you can put out there and say, I'm not going to vote on a spending authorization bill unless you insert this?

COFFMAN: Well, we think it's going to take a bit more. I mean, we haven't even being able to draft it legislatively. So that is probably not going to be the case. But we believe that in January it will be a priority to find a resolution. And if there does appear to be leverage, certainly we will insert it. What I do not want to see is a government shutdown. I do not think that that is in the best interest of the American people. And so I'm trying to avoid that, obviously watching programs that are important to my district, not - certainly this program, finding a resolution to these young people that have been in the DACA program. But also, I mean, this involves the CHIP program...

MARTIN: Children's Health Insurance Program. Funding for that has now been delayed. Yeah.

COFFMAN: Yeah. So there are concerns about a number of programs that certainly affect my congressional district that are in this. So therefore for a variety of reasons, I do not want to see a shutdown.

MARTIN: But we've seen a series of short-term term spending bills instead of a full budget. Lawmakers keep kicking this can down the proverbial road. I mean, Republicans control both houses of Congress, even the White House. Are you ever going to see a proper budget passed here?

COFFMAN: It is a bad way to govern. There (laughter) is no question about that. But, yes, I'm hoping that once we get this short-term thing done that we will go through the appropriations process and begin to have longer appropriations because it is a mess to govern this way. It is very hard for agencies to the federal government to govern along this, or to be able to provide the sort of services that the American people need with the fits and starts in this appropriation process.

MARTIN: Republican Mike Coffman of Colorado, thanks so much for your time this morning.

COFFMAN: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: We're going to turn now to NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who was listening to that conversation. So Tamara, we heard the congressman there say this is a bad way to govern - nevertheless, this is what's happening.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: (Laughter). And this is a long-standing way of governing that, for a variety of reasons, Congress just seems more able to kick the can or punt or put it on layaway, whatever you want to call it, than they are to do these longer-term funding bills.

MARTIN: What struck you about what he was saying about DACA, that this was something that was important, a bipartisan group had come together and said we want this fix put in the spending bill, that's not going to happen now?

KEITH: Nope. That's not going to happen now. And I think that what he wasn't really saying is that leadership in both the House and the Senate, Republican leadership, has basically said those of you who really care about this, come to us with a deal that we'll pass and then we'll put it on the floor. But until then there's not a lot that's going to happen. So they are people on both sides of the aisle, and both sides of the Congress are working to come up with a bipartisan fix here, and it will also involve the president. The president is going to need to push for this.

MARTIN: All right. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks so much, Tam.

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