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House Democrats Face Critical Deadlines All This Week

NOEL KING, HOST:

This is a very high-stakes week for Joe Biden's presidency. Democrats in Congress have a deadline to avoid a government shutdown, and they need to agree among themselves to pass Biden's domestic agenda. Here's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on ABC's "This Week."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS")

NANCY PELOSI: This isn't about moderates versus progressives. Overwhelmingly, the entirety of our caucus, except for a few whose judgment I respect, support the vision of Joe Biden. And we will - make progress on it this week.

KING: NPR Congressional Correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following this story. She's with us now. Good morning, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: What has to get done this week?

SNELL: Well, the House and Senate have to pass a bill to keep the government open past the end of the day on Thursday. That is a hard-and-fast deadline. It is the end of the fiscal year, and they have to do something or the government will shut down. They also need to pass probably the bipartisan infrastructure bill because it includes some provisions that are part of an annual surface transportation bill. And they need to pass it so that money can get out there so people can keep driving on the highways.

KING: Are they really going to get it (laughter) done?

SNELL: (Laughter) It's - you know, it's possible for them to get all of this done, but it's really, really difficult. You know, Pelosi was pretty blunt in saying that the House will pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill this week. And Democrats have said that they will not shut down the government. But the timing of the vote on the bipartisan bill has already slipped. Pelosi sent a letter to Democrats last night moving the final vote on the bipartisan bill from Monday to Thursday, which is the final day of authorization for some of those transportation programs.

But you know what? There are a lot of moving parts. The debt-limit and the shutdown deadline are politically tied right now. The bipartisan infrastructure bill and the bigger spending bill, to pass - basically, the majority of Biden's domestic agenda are politically tied. So this is one of those moments where they have to kind of juggle a lot of competing pressures between, you know, things inside of their own party and fights with Republicans.

KING: It definitely seems like Democrats are in a bit of a bind.

SNELL: Right.

KING: To your eye, is that the case? And if so, how do they get out of it?

SNELL: It is a bit of a bind. I mean, Democrats are in this situation where they - there is bipartisan agreement to keep the government open past Thursday. But they are fighting about this debt-limit question. Now, the debt limit is this now fairly frequent fight that happens between Democrats and Republicans about a cap on borrowing. And it's to kind of pay the debts for money borrowed to finance spending that has already been approved.

Democrats included a debt-limit provision in the spending bill that they need to pass to keep the government open. Republicans don't want that there. They say the Democrats should move it over to that broader spending bill that includes much of Biden's agenda because Democrats are already trying to pass that bill with a budget tool called reconciliation that would allow them to get around a filibuster in the Senate. But that would put all of the responsibility for default on Democrats' shoulders. Democrats don't want to be in that position. Plus, they're trying to make the political point that Republicans are shirking their responsibility on the debt. And debt-limit suspensions tend to be bipartisan.

KING: Do you think we're going to see a shutdown?

SNELL: You know, it's still really hard to tell. It is a crazy thing to say that, with just a few days left. But Democrats could hold the vote today and have Senate Republicans block the spending bill and then try to pass a whole nother separate bill with just a stand-alone to keep the government open. That is an option, but it will take time, and it may bring them right up to the deadline.

KING: NPR Congressional Correspondent Kelsey Snell - thank you, Kelsey.

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