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Lawmakers Will Find A Way To Keep The Government Open, Short Says


It was quite a scene yesterday - Congressional Republicans standing on risers outside the White House applauding President Trump and the president applauding them right back. But the self-congratulations have to take a back seat because there is yet another legislative challenge. Congress has to pass some kind of spending bill by Friday at midnight in order to prevent a government shutdown. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that the responsibility to keep the government open falls on Republicans.


NANCY PELOSI: The government will be open by the Republicans because they have the votes. They have the votes in the House. They have the Senate. So they control whether government is open.

MARTIN: White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short joins us now. He's one of the people who gets the credit when the government stays funded and gets in trouble if it does not. Marc, thanks so much for being back on the show. And happy holidays.

MARC SHORT: Rachel, thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: Before you get to enjoy Christmas and New Year's, you all have to find a way to fund the government and keep the lights on. Are you confident that's going to happen?

SHORT: Yes, we're confident that's going to happen. Nobody is angling for a government shutdown right now. We expect that both the House and Senate will likely take it up today and late tonight. And we think this will be resolved before the deadline tomorrow. I think that in January, we're going to have a lot of tough decisions to make as the CR will get us to January 1 spending bill and a lot of different priorities that both Republicans and Democrats want. But we think it's ending the year on a good note for us.

MARTIN: You need Democrats in order to pass a spending bill. Democrats, though, as we just heard from Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer, want a lot of things. And in particular, they want permanent protections for so-called DREAMers, the children of illegal immigrants who want to stay in the U.S. Is that going to happen? What can you give those Democrats?

SHORT: Well, despite Leader Pelosi's comments a second ago, the reality is we need Democrats to get a continuing resolution too. She is right that we have the votes in the House, but in the Senate, it requires 60 votes. And so therefore, we will need probably 10 Senate Democrats to help support the initiative to keep the government open. So that will be a bipartisan effort. Specific to your question there, Rachel, the president has said all along he wants a resolution to DACA. It's why when the president listened to the Department of Justice who told him that the Obama administration actions were illegal and not legislated in the DACA program that the president gave a six-month window until March 5 to ask Congress to come back to him with a solution. We submitted to Congress our priorities, what we want for DACA. And we're - we've been working on a bipartisan basis with several members in Congress and especially in the Senate. We believe that we'll have a resolution to that in January or February as well.

MARTIN: You can see a bill. You are confident that Republican Senate leadership will allow a bill to come forward in January?

SHORT: Absolutely. Senate Republican leadership also has wanted to have this resolved legislatively. I think that, as you know, what the administration has asked is that we also begin to address the issues of border security and an end to the diversity lottery program that I think is - we've seen the impact of that in some of the individuals who have reached our shores and conducted terrorist attacks. So we're - we - there's a couple of things that we're asking for that we think has bipartisan basis. And we know that finding a resolution for the 750,000 participants who are here on the Deferred Action Childhood program will get protection too.

MARTIN: I want to switch gears and ask about the repercussions of the tax bill that just passed. It's going to increase the deficit by around $1.4 trillion. President Trump has said one way to offset the costs of the tax cuts is to cut entitlements, which he said on the campaign trail that he would never do. Is he going back on that promise?

SHORT: No, the president actually is consistent in saying that he does not want to cut Medicare, Social Security. He's been very consistent on that.

MARTIN: Then what does he mean when he said that we will pay for this by reforming welfare?

SHORT: Well, there are different programs in welfare that I think that need reform and I think that even Democrats have said to us that they want to address again. As you know, the last time we did significant welfare reform was in the 1990s. But that does not necessarily mean touching Social Security or Medicare. Those are the programs the president promised to protect and...

MARTIN: Could he cut Medicaid? Would that be a target?

SHORT: Well, keep in mind, when we tried to repeal Obamacare, we said at the time that Medicaid was on an unsustainable path. And we were looking to make it sustainable for future generations. Many in the media criticize that as cuts, but again, only in Washington, if you slow the growth rate, they consider that a cut. We were not cutting any program. We were trying to put it on a sustainable path. So that is certainly a program that we think is on an unsustainable path, and if it's going to be there for future generations, needs to be addressed.

MARTIN: Which comes first, this entitlement reform you're talking about or the infrastructure plan that the president has touted for so long which has still not come to be?

SHORT: I think you'll probably see an infrastructure plan rolled out in January. But, Rachel, because infrastructure touches on so many different committees of jurisdiction, that process will probably take longer. So I think you'll have to go through seven or eight different committees with that legislation. So I would imagine that you will see us roll out our plan in January, but it will probably take most of 2018 to work its way through Congress.

MARTIN: How do you pay for the infrastructure bill?

SHORT: I think that there are lots of ways to can pay for infrastructure. It's why the president put forward a budget last year that's balanced in 10 years. There's lots of spending programs that can be cut.

MARTIN: Marc short is the White House Director of Legislative Affairs. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

SHORT: Rachel, thanks for having me on. Have a merry Christmas.

MARTIN: You too. We're going to turn now to NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who was listening in to that conversation. So, Tam, Marc Short there kind of threading the needle when talking about how the president and the administration plans to pay for all the tax cuts that have just been passed. He says there are a lot of things in welfare that could be reformed, not necessarily cut. Is that how Democrats are reading this language?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: No, that's not how Democrats are reading it and. I will say that, you know, during the campaign, President Trump - then-candidate Trump did promise not to cut Medicaid. Then when he became president, the Affordable Care Act repeal legislation did make significant changes - proposed significant changes to Medicaid. And the president and congressional Republicans still want to make those changes. That is a fight Democrats are more than willing to have, and it...

MARTIN: It helps them politically as they approach the midterms in 2018?

KEITH: Certainly. They - Democrats believe that Americans want to protect Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and various programs like that. And those are programs that they are willing to argue for and are more than happy to produce campaign ads that say that, you know, the Republicans are pushing grandma off a cliff. That is sort of an age-old campaign ad for Democrats.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, Marc Short convinced that the government's going to stay open. Do they have the votes?

KEITH: They most likely do. But, you know, there could be a little drama along the way. We know how this movie is going to end. We don't know what plot twist there might be in the next, you know, 24 or 48 hours. But that's what...

MARTIN: Wait and see. Are you telling us to wait and see, Tamara Keith, as always? NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks so much, Tam.

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

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