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With the clock ticking down toward a possible government shutdown, the Senate is expected to approve a bill today that would keep the government running.
The bill does not include a Republican effort to defund the Affordable Care Act.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has schedule a series of four procedural votes starting at 12:30 p.m.
Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi says, “I think there’s about a 50-50 chance” of a government shutdown.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
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HOBSON: But first with the clock ticking down toward a possible government shutdown, the Senate has approved a bill that would keep the government running and not cut funding for Obamacare. That bill goes to the House, where its fate is uncertain, as is a shutdown of the federal government just four days from now.
Joining us for more is Senator Roger Wicker. He's a Republican from Mississippi. Senator, welcome to HERE AND NOW.
SENATOR ROGER WICKER: Glad to be with you.
HOBSON: Well, is the government going to shut down on Tuesday or not, do you think?
WICKER: I think there's about a 50-50 chance. You know, the House is not going to have much time once the Democratic version of the bill gets back over to them. So as a matter of fact, I had dinner with some of my House colleagues that I used to serve with last night, and they're very downcast about the prospect of getting something done before the deadline.
HOBSON: Well, if it's a 50-50 chance, tell me about the positive side here. What would have to happen in order for the government not to shut down at this point, as you see it?
WICKER: Well, I think the House of Representatives might send back a short-term, maybe one week, CR to keep the government going briefly while we try to negotiate some policy changes that need to be made. I think another approach is to keep the government open temporarily and then move toward the debt ceiling bill.
When we did this two years ago, we found that we actually got some very substantive policy changes on the debt ceiling bill. It was a better vehicle and maybe a better strategy for getting some conservative changes to our spending policies.
HOBSON: But the president has already said that he's not going to negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, that this is money that Congress has already appropriated. You can't just say you're not going to pay your bills.
WICKER: I know he said that, but the fact is that he negotiated two years ago. That's how we got the supercommittee, and that's how we got the negotiations on making changes in our mandatory spending. The result was a cut in discretionary spending, which we call sequestration. It's not the best way to save money, but it's something that the president agreed to in a negotiation in connection with the debt ceiling bill.
So he's already proved that he will negotiate. I can understand why he says he doesn't want to, but he's already shown that he's willing to do that. And the fact of the matter is most debt ceiling bills have had policy changes attached to them.
HOBSON: But it is a pretty high-stakes game of chicken here. You've got - if you're negotiating over the debt ceiling, and you don't come to an agreement, it has economic ripple effects all around the world, as well as right here for real people in their lives.
WICKER: And that's why we need to come to an agreement. I think the best thing to do is keep the government open for a few days, pivot to the debt ceiling bill and for reasonable minds to agree. We have divided government, we have a Republican speaker of the House, and we have a Democratic president and Democratic majority in the Senate. Nobody's going to get everything they want.
HOBSON: Do you see a way around this without defunding the president's health care law or making very significant changes to it?
WICKER: I think there are some proposals that have majority support even in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The repeal of the medical device tax is one. We had a Democratic senator very significantly come out just yesterday for a one-year postponement in the individual mandate. So I think there are things that have bipartisan support not only among the American people but also more and more support on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate.
HOBSON: Although your colleague, Senator John McCain, has spoken out against this effort to make significant changes to the health care law, saying we fought as hard as we could in a fair and honest manner, and we lost; Obamacare is the law of the land.
WICKER: I'm not sure that's what John McCain said or meant to say. John McCain is a staunch opponent of Obamacare, and he's going to vote today for legislation that would defund Obamacare. But I think he's just making the point that there's only so much you can do when you control one-third of the government. And the logical conclusion of some of the strategy we've been seeing in the past few days would be a government shutdown. I think that's what he's saying.
And frankly I support that. You know, you can be a conservative and reject the notion that we ought to shut the government down. I think there's more than one way to achieve our goals. And one of those ways is to acknowledge that with one-third of the government in Republican hands, we're not going to get everything we want.
We need to make this an issue for the 2014 elections, I'll tell you that.
HOBSON: Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi. Senator, thanks for joining us.
WICKER: Thanks for asking me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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