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Congress Passes Funding Bill To Avoid Government Shutdown

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Happy no-shutdown day. This last day before the deadline, Congress managed to pass a measure that will keep the government open for the next two-and-a-half months. Fears of a shutdown subsided after House Speaker John Boehner said he'd be leaving at the end of next month. NPR's Ailsa Chang has been looking into what Boehner might be able to cram into the next four weeks before he's out the door.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: So there won't be a government shutdown tonight, but Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois tells Republicans this is no achievement.

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DICK DURBIN: It's a sad state of affairs when the GOP measures success on not shutting down the government.

CHANG: Or maybe it's a sad state of affairs that no one seems all that relieved, as if something worse is coming. If you listened to the Senate floor, you would be told that America still lost this week even without a shutdown. Here's how Republican senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas put it.

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TED CRUZ: Republican leadership has said we will never, ever, ever shut down the government, and suddenly President Obama understands the easy key to winning every battle. He simply has to utter the word shutdown.

CHANG: Cruz believes Republicans lost an opportunity today. He would've liked to see Planned Parenthood lose federal money.

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CRUZ: Republican leadership says we surrender. We will fund Planned Parenthood.

CHANG: And it's this angst, this feeling that there's still a lot left to fight about - that's the real reason no one is quite celebrating today. Government funding will run out again in mid-December, so shutdown talk will come back soon enough. And conservative Republican Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina says it's going to be a lot worse.

MICK MULVANEY: It'll be messy in many, many more ways just because there's going to be so much more at stake.

CHANG: Here's what's at stake through the end of December - the debt ceiling, funding for new roads and bridges, big budget negotiations and extending tax breaks - lots of chances to fight rolled into one deliciously tumultuous fall. So the question now is, what can House Speaker John Boehner get done before he leaves office at the end of October? Mulvaney thinks Boehner should leave well enough alone.

MULVANEY: I never liked lame-duck sessions. I don't think we should pass significant legislation in our ordinary lame-duck between the time of an election and new Congress. There's a complete lack of accountability when we do that, and I think, to a certain extent, that same circumstance applies here.

CHANG: But many other Republicans think Boehner should flex his lame-duck muscles hard all through the next four weeks, especially on the biggest stuff like getting a new budget agreement. Democrats want to bust spending caps for domestic programs, and Republicans don't find that appetizing. Boehner's allies, like Tom Cole of Oklahoma, say the White House should come forward now with its best offer before new House leadership takes over.

TOM COLE: It becomes extremely difficult for new guys who are just learning their job and just building up their credibility to pull off a really large agreement.

CHANG: But some Republicans say jamming to get things done under Boehner isn't necessary because his likely successor is a guy who doesn't seem all that different from Boehner, current majority leader Kevin McCarthy.

KEVIN MCCARTHY: I won't be as tan.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: Skin tone's not the only thing. There's also the tone within the caucus that McCarthy will have to address. Conservatives now emboldened by Boehner's resignation will demand to be heard, but Democrats warn the presumptive speaker in waiting he'll also have to contend with them. Here's Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: Instead of pledging intransigence and gridlock to pick up a couple - a handful of extra votes from the very most conservative, hard-right members of this entire body, we hope Republicans running for leadership will reach across the aisle and try a new approach.

CHANG: House Republicans will be picking their new leaders next Thursday. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.