RAY SUAREZ, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Ray Suarez. Michel Martin is away. We're going to start the program today with politics because this was a week of significant wins for Republicans. They've got a new tax bill signed into law and passed a temporary spending bill that keeps the government open through the first three weeks of the new year. The cherry on top for them - it adds $4 billion to the missile defense budget. But that fix is only in place until January 19, after which, Congress is supposed to come up with a durable long-term budget to get the country through the rest of the fiscal year. With me now to talk about the likelihood of that actually happening is NPR's congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Welcome.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.
SUAREZ: So let's jump right in. First off, what did Congress agree to in order to get to enough of that agreement to keep the government open until the 19?
SNELL: Mainly, the bill includes government funding to keep everything at about the exact same spending level as it is right now until January 19. It also includes funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program to keep that program running until March. There's also the reauthorization of a controversial section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it allows wiretapping without an open warrant. And there's also a reauthorization of the Veterans Choice insurance program. So it keeps a lot of things going, and it gives them more time to negotiate.
SUAREZ: Now since there's a big congressional vacation in the middle of this, really, January 19 is not that far away. Are they going to be able to get an actual long-term spending bill together in that time?
SNELL: Well, it's entirely possible that we will see them have to pass another short-term spending bill before they can get to a long-term spending agreement. I've talked to the appropriators who write the spending bills and they say that they're making progress on a spending agreement but they're not quite there yet. And that's made a little bit more difficult because the House announced that they're going to be coming back on January 8 instead of right after New Year's. So they are taking even more time for vacation, and that could extend the negotiations even further.
SUAREZ: And immigration has been a contentious issue for years in Washington, how is it involved in getting the two big parties to agree to a long-term spending plan?
SNELL: Democrats want a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 700,000 people who are here in the country illegally but were brought here as children. Now, part of this is that Democrats say they won't sign on to a long-term spending agreement until there is an immigration agreement in place. They've been saying that they wouldn't leave town without a deal but they did. And there are a lot of activists who are really frustrated that they didn't follow through. Leaders I've talked to including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer say the conversations are going well and they believe these are good-faith talks.
SUAREZ: There are members on both sides of the aisle who say that this is a priority. This is something that has to get done - how come it still hasn't?
SNELL: Well, there are some disagreements about what both sides want. But in order to get to a long term path to citizenship for these DREAMers, Republicans want to see increased border security, and that's something Democrats have agreed to in the past. But typically, that means electronic surveillance and monitoring systems and upkeep of existing infrastructure along the border, not increasing detention centers or the number of agents who carry out deportations. And that's a big point of conflict between Democrats and Republicans, trying to figure all of that out.
Now, Republicans want to avoid a big fight over money for a physical wall along the border. And we just don't really know where the president is on that right now. It was a major campaign request of his but it's not something he's been talking about lately.
SUAREZ: And Mitch McConnell, I mean, he's one of the central figures in all of this. There are signals from Chuck Schumer that they're ready to provide more money for security. Where's McConnell on all of this?
SNELL: Well, McConnell told us in that interview this week that he does think that an agreement on immigration will happen.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: The president has actually incentivized us by putting a time limit on the DACA program to see what we can agree to. And there are constructive bipartisan discussions going on. Already, I put together a group to address that issue, and we have until March to do that and I'm confident we will.
SUAREZ: As Senator McConnell notes, some of the urgency was built in by President Trump himself by rescinding the executive action that created the program in the first place to be replaced by legislation. So, really, Congress must act.
SNELL: Right. When President Trump did rescind that, he said that he didn't believe the executive order was legal. And so he's put the onus on Congress to make a new law. And he angered many people in his base when he talked about working with Democrats to get that done. So Democrats are working on it. They believe they're getting towards a solution, but we don't really know where the president will come down or how long this will take to get an agreement.
SUAREZ: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Thanks a lot.
SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.