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Congress Faces A Crazy-Busy September


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. An intense week in presidential politics, but government goes on, too. The U.S. Congress returns to work next week. They need to pass a spending package to keep on the government's lights next month. And there's a high-profile vote ahead on the Iran nuclear deal, and some famous visitors will come to town, including President Xi Jinping of China and Pope Francis. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us. Scott, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Is there going to be enough time to get all this done?

HORSLEY: It's going to be close, Scott. I hope you're well rested. The Senate is only scheduled to be in session for 15 days this month, the House just 10 days here in Washington, and they've got a lot to jam in. The Iran vote will be one of the first items up. But that's been drained of some of the high-stakes drama because there are now enough Democratic senators who've come out in favor of the deal limiting Iran's nuclear program to preserve the agreement even if a majority of Congress votes its disapproval. The only question now is whether the White House can win a few more Senate Democrats and head off a vote in the Senate altogether.

SIMON: They can't do that with the spending bills, right? They really need Congress to act.

HORSLEY: Yeah, and that's where it's really going to be crunch time because thus far Congress has not passed a single one of the spending bills needed to keep the government operating beyond September 30. Now, Republican leaders in both the House and Senate want to show they can make the trains run on time. They want to avoid a repeat of the government shutdown from two years ago. But there are reasons to wonder if they can push even a stopgap spending bill through. For one thing, there are still deep disagreements about the right level of government spending. Both Democrats and Republicans want to increase defense spending above the cap they imposed several years ago. But President Obama says if defense spending goes up, domestic spending should too. Many Republicans disagree, so we'll have to see if they can find some of that elusive common ground.

SIMON: The argument's not just about the overall level of spending, is it?

HORSLEY: No, the spending bills could be an opportunity to reopen some other arguments from earlier in the year - about how to pay for highways and other public works, for example, about whether to reopen the Export-Import Bank that helps U.S. companies doing business overseas. Tea Party lawmakers and their allies consider the Ex-Im Bank a form of corporate welfare, and they succeeded in blocking its authority to make new loans over the summer. And then finally, a big battle could be brewing over government funding for Planned Parenthood. Some conservatives insist they'll vote against any spending bill that maintains taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. Most Democrats, including the President, say they're likely to oppose any bill that doesn't include that funding.

SIMON: Lots of negotiation ahead for the president on domestic policy and foreign diplomacy, too, of course.

HORSLEY: That's right. The president plays host this month to President Xi Jinping of China, a visit that will be even more in the spotlight given the recent turbulence in the Chinese economy and the ripple effects that's having here and elsewhere around the world. He's also meeting with Pope Francis, who has been an ally for the White House in the campaign against climate change. And then the president will end this month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York where he'll come face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

SIMON: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks so much for being with us.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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