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Congress Averts Government Shutdown, Postponing Tough Legislation Decisions

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Looks like there may not be a government shutdown right before Christmas. The House and Senate have both passed a bill to keep the government funded through mid-January. While lawmakers are putting off a shutdown crisis in the short term, they will return in 2018 with a number of other contentious issues waiting for them. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is at the Capitol and joins us now. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This all came together pretty quickly. What's actually in the spending bill?

SNELL: Well, it includes funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program to keep that running into next year. It would keep the government's spending even at the same level as it's at right now through January 19. And it would extent a controversial part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows for eavesdropping on communications without a public warrant. It also includes some flood insurance and veterans health care.

Democrats threatened at the beginning of the week not to vote for the spending bill after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the bill must include major Democratic priorities like overhauling the nation's immigration laws. Here's what Pelosi had to say today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: Newsbreak - the Republicans control the Congress. They control the House. They control the Senate. And they have the signature in the White House. They have the votes to keep government open. They have the votes to keep government open. They don't need us to keep government open.

SNELL: And that's true, and Democrats also generally agree that they should hold out for those priorities, but roughly a dozen House Democrats voted for the spending bill. And several Senate Democrats also voted for the spending bill.

SHAPIRO: So what is on lawmakers' to-do list when they come back in January?

SNELL: Well, first there's kind of an unexpected change happening here. It sounds like the Senate may not vote on an $81 billion disaster funding bill that also just passed the House. The expectation was they were going to try to do that before they left town for Christmas, but Democrats say the Senate is still working through some issues on how disaster money is going to be spent, how much is needed, where it will go. And they're going to have to redo everything we just mentioned all over again on January - sometime before January 19 to keep the government open after that.

SHAPIRO: What about immigration and the two health care measures that Senator Susan Collins asked for during the tax negotiations?

SNELL: Yeah, so this is where things get a little bit more complicated. Those things are going to wait until next year, but most of the parties involved say they're fairly satisfied with the conversations as they're happening. So Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona said he is pleased with the talks. He's a Republican - says he's pleased with the talks on immigration. And Democrats say that they are happy that these good-faith talks are continuing, but they're not quite there yet. Earlier, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that he understands the anxiety in particular of the Hispanic Caucus about the immigration negotiations, and he says he's going to do everything he can to make sure that protections are passed into law next year.

There's also this issue of health care. Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, worked out an agreement with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the president to vote on some measures that would stabilize insurance markets. Now, she says that she believes that those votes will happen. And my colleague Susan Davis and I sat down with Senator - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier today, and he agreed and reassured that those votes will be coming sometime next year. So when we get back from this holiday break, Congress is going to have an incredibly long to-do list. And it will be difficult to get it all done.

SHAPIRO: And we will hear part of that conversation with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell elsewhere in the show. NPR's Kelsey Snell speaking with us from Capitol Hill - thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.