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Congress faces a hard deadline to approve a government spending plan


Congress has a few days left to approve a government spending plan. Leaders have agreed on broad outlines of a bipartisan deal. The House and Senate have a lot of work to approve the details. We heard yesterday from a Republican lawmaker in the House who opposes the agreement. Too much spending, he says. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia joins us this morning. Senator, welcome back.

TIM KAINE: Steve, good to be with you. Thanks.

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INSKEEP: Is it reasonable to expect that you will get your business done and pass everything in time, the next few days?

KAINE: I think it is. Remember, this deal is just affirming the deal that the House, Senate and President Biden made last May. We made a deal about spending levels, and the deal that was announced over the holiday with the House under the leadership of a new speaker, obviously, is that we would stick to that deal. So this is not, like, a new thing that everybody has to scramble to figure out how to do it. This is the flight path we've been on since last May, and I believe we can get it done - part of the budget done by January 19, and then the other portion done by February 2.

INSKEEP: There's an ambiguity here I'm trying to figure out from the outside. Republicans have demanded, among other things, that something be added here, that there be a crackdown on immigration at the border or illegal immigration at the border in some manner that satisfies them. I know that talks with the White House are ongoing about immigration. So is this connected to passing the spending plan? If so, how and where do things stand?

KAINE: Steve, in the Senate, it's not connected to the spending plan, but it is connected to the other big item of business we're working on right now, which is this supplemental package of security assistance to Ukraine...

INSKEEP: Oh, right, right. Go on.

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KAINE: ...Israel, humanitarian assistance to Gaza. So we are working on that very thing. And it's unclear whether on the House they would want this as part of the spending plan or part of the supplemental. But in the Senate, these are two live discussions happening at the same time, the budget discussion and then the supplemental discussion. And border security's in the middle of that.

INSKEEP: OK, so this is actually helpful to me as a layman. You're telling me that the broader budget outline that was approved last spring and reapproved over the holidays and is on its way to passage, may or may not - does not necessarily include some hot-button things like aid to Ukraine.

KAINE: I think it's likely that it will not include those. But what you'll likely see in the Senate is we're going to start moving today on the first chunk of the budget, and then we're likely to take up very quickly this supplemental package, which includes the tough, you know, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza humanitarian aid and the border security provisions. Negotiations are ongoing, but my sense is they're very close to a point of resolution.

INSKEEP: Do you expect, at least on the Senate side, a clean spending plan to be passed? In other words, no controversial riders on policy, so to speak.

KAINE: It's interesting that - what is a controversial writer is in the eye of the beholder. And I believe the plan right now is, yes, it's going to be a clean spending bill. And, you know, our general attitude about the House is they have to do it their way. But the bigger bipartisan margin we can put behind any bill in the Senate, the more likely, when it goes over to the House, it carries some momentum that, you know, maximizes the chances that they will act favorably.

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INSKEEP: There is talk of expanding a child tax credit permanently as part of all this, which would be a big deal for a lot of families. Is that going to happen?

KAINE: That one is still very much up in the air, and it's kind of a paired discussion. Child tax credit on the one hand, and also an R&D credit for businesses that do research and development, which is a huge, you know, motivator for economic growth, really desired by the Republicans and by American corporate community. And so Senator Wyden and the Finance Committee members are working to see if they can do a deal that would pair child tax credit with the research and development credit. I talked to Ron yesterday, and he says, you know, it's complicated, and once people see those two, then they want to add everything else in the tax code that they want. So he's working hard on it. But that would be a wonderful win if we could get both of those done.

INSKEEP: OK, one other thing in about 30 seconds - Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has been criticized for failing to tell the White House or anybody else about his hospitalization and his condition in recent days. What do you make of all that?

KAINE: It can't happen again. It was a very serious breach by a guy who clearly - great public servant - understands chain of command. You have to keep your superiors and you have to keep your subordinates informed. He's sixth in line to the presidency. We're involved in military actions right now where he's playing a critical role. He should have kept folks informed.

INSKEEP: Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, thank you so much.

KAINE: All right. Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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