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Democratic Lawmakers Feel The Pressure To Get Things Done On Their To-Do List

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Congress has a lot on the line today. Bare-bones, lawmakers need to make sure the federal government does not shut down at midnight. But that's just one item on their to-do list. Democrats are struggling to overcome an internal conflict over how to execute the bulk of President Biden's agenda. White House press secretary Jen Psaki spoke about that effort yesterday, referencing two spending packages.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEN PSAKI: Our objective here is winning two votes, getting these two pieces of important legislation across the finish line because we know the impact they'll have on the American people.

MARTINEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following this. Kelsey, to start with, will there be a partial government shutdown tonight?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: It doesn't seem like it right now. The Senate has an agreement to vote on a bill to keep the government funded through December 3. You know, Democrats and Republicans all want to avoid a shutdown. And they really do seem to be working closely together and working in good faith to get this done. You know, both parties also want to make sure that they approve some of the other things that were added to the spending bill that are really important to just about all of the members of Congress. It's things like money for refugees from Afghanistan and money for communities that were hit by natural disasters over the past 18 months. You know, it may take the whole day, and they may get close to the deadline, but every person I talked to in the Capitol is confident that there will not be a shutdown.

MARTINEZ: OK. But that's not all. The House is supposed to vote today on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan. Is that actually going to happen?

SNELL: Well, it's harder to answer that question. Lots of mixed messaging has been happening about what is going to go on with that infrastructure vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer say they will be voting today on that bipartisan infrastructure bill. But Pelosi has also said that she doesn't want to have votes on bills that will fail. And progressives have threatened to vote against this bill - and more progressives than she can afford to lose if it's going to pass. So it's not totally clear what she's going to do.

Support for this, you know, bipartisan bill hinges on President Biden reaching a deal with moderate Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia on a totally separate bill. But those bills are politically linked. So whatever deal they reach on the big spending bill that President Biden is negotiating has to satisfy progressive Democrats who want to keep as much of the existing 3.5 trillion bill as possible and, you know, also keep the moderates on board who are worried about spending too much. And it really isn't clear if that's possible. But this is a self-imposed deadline to vote today on infrastructure. They could move it. What they can't move is yet another looming deadline on the debt limit.

MARTINEZ: And speaking of President Biden, he's gotten really involved in this process this week. What's at stake for him?

SNELL: Yeah. The White House had previously left a lot of details to congressional leaders, but Biden has gotten really involved. He's had a lot of meetings over the past couple of weeks with lawmakers in the Capitol - in the White House. He canceled a trip to Chicago. He even made a trip to a charity baseball game last night between congressional Democrats and Republicans, where he was hanging out in the dugout with Democrats, handing out ice cream. His entire agenda is on the line here, along with the promises that most Democrats made to voters when they were running for election. So they have a lot to figure out.

MARTINEZ: And one more thing - is there a plan to avoid the government defaulting?

SNELL: Well, there is sort of a plan. The House passed a bill yesterday to suspend the debt limit until December of next year. The Senate's supposed to vote on that in the coming days, but it's not totally clear if it will pass. Republicans have said that they won't vote for it and they won't support any effort to increase the debt limit.

MARTINEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thanks a lot.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.