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House Bill To Keep Government Open Passes After Deal With Freedom Caucus

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The deadline is here. The U.S. government will shut down tonight at midnight if Congress doesn't fund it. Specifically, today the Senate needs to pass this stop gap funding bill that the House passed last night. Senate Democrats are blaming the president for taking negotiations right up to the deadline. Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: The one thing standing in our way is the unrelenting flow of chaos from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. It has reduced the Republicans to shambles. We barely know who to negotiate with.

MARTIN: In the House, Republicans from the Freedom Caucus, who were initially opposed to the spending bill, are getting some credit for pushing through this short-term fix. So what tipped the scales? We're going to ask Congressman Tom Garrett. He's a Republican from Virginia and a member of the Freedom Caucus. He joins me now on Skype.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GARRETT JR.: It's my pleasure. First of all, though, I was never opposed to this spending agreement. It includes funding for health care for 9 million vulnerable children that we voted for four times - that Chuck Schumer, like a gluttonous child, sits at a table and says he cares about. But then he and Leader Pelosi have repeatedly avoided opportunities to fund.

This guy's like a kid having his cake and trying to eat it, too. Ultimately, last night, 186 Democrats voted to shut down the government. Eleven voted not to. Two-hundred-and-twenty some odd Republicans voted to keep it open and fund children's health care.

MARTIN: There's a lot in there.

GARRETT JR.: Yeah, there sure is. There sure is.

MARTIN: So let's back up and walk through all this. So you're talking about the Children's Health Insurance Program. This is...

GARRETT JR.: That's exactly what I'm talking about.

MARTIN: ...Is something that Republicans have attached to this idea of a short-term spending bill in order to get Democrats on board.

GARRETT JR.: Oh, well, it certainly didn't work if that's the case. I voted for the thing four times. Ms. Pelosi says, oh, I care about children's health insurance - repeatedly votes against it. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe asked us to do something about it after we'd already voted to fix it. Well, if the Democrats would get out of the way, we could help these children.

MARTIN: Well, I think what they want to see is a long-term permanent fix to the Children's Health Insurance Program.

GARRETT JR.: Yeah, this is a long-term fix - 2023. So that's pretty good, right? 2023 - that's pretty long term.

MARTIN: They also want to see a long-term fix to immigration, in particular a solution for the so-called DREAMers.

GARRETT JR.: Well, then tell the truth. Tell the truth. They've put 9 million vulnerable American children behind 800,000 immigrants, some of whom were brought here as children and some of whom came here themselves because we haven't yet defined what a child is.

If you're 17 years and 364 days old and you, of your own accord, cross the border, are you a child? I suppose by the definition of a law. But if we want to help these children, let's help them. There will be another C.R. in four weeks, and we can talk about DACA.

MARTIN: But you yourself have said that governing by continuing resolution isn't a good idea. You said you hate governing this way.

GARRETT JR.: Yeah. I do. I can't stand it. But I've also said that we need to do something about children's health insurance. And here's the opportunity to do it. So I invite Senator Schumer to join us, avoid this Schumer shutdown and bring this health insurance to these children who, by no actions of their own, are the most vulnerable among us.

MARTIN: So this is just about...

GARRETT JR.: Do the Democrats care about this, or is this about showmanship and political grandstanding? I mean...

MARTIN: They would say - with all due respect, Congressman, they would say...

GARRETT JR.: With all due respect...

MARTIN: ...The same about...

GARRETT JR.: ...We should count who voted against the government staying open.

MARTIN: ...Republicans in this moment.

GARRETT JR.: Well, yeah. But they had a chance to fund children's health insurance. They will have it in the Senate when they take this vote. And if they choose not to, then the American people should count the votes, see how many Democrats voted to shut down versus how many Republicans voted to shut down...

MARTIN: There seems to be a real effort to figure out...

GARRETT JR.: And then we can figure out who's at fault.

MARTIN: I'm sorry to interrupt you.

There seems to be a real effort, though, on the part of Republicans to frame this as a Democratic failure - if the shutdown happens, it's on Democrats. At the same time...

GARRETT JR.: Well, when 186 Democrats vote to shut down...

MARTIN: ...Democrats point to Republicans and say - you are in control of the White House. You are in control of both houses of Congress. This would be the first time that government would shut down under one-party rule. Wouldn't that be a problem politically for the GOP?

GARRETT JR.: Well, here's the problem. The Republican Party is not comprised of people who think monolithically and do as they're told. It's comprised of freethinkers. And if your listeners would think for themselves and ask the second question and not the first question - that is, why do we want to fund children's health insurance? Why is it important to do it now?

Are 9 million vulnerable children more important than 800,000 people who the Democrats are using as a political football? Then we would fund children's health insurance, come back to the table and try to address these poor young people who were brought here - in many cases, but not all - by no decision of their own.

MARTIN: Well, then what...

GARRETT JR.: We have a chance to fix CHIP through 2023.

MARTIN: ...Did you make of the president's tweet? When the president tweeted out that the short-term spending bill should not include CHIP funding, what did you make of that? Was that not confusing?

GARRETT JR.: I just pointed out that I don't think monolithically. And I'm not a sycophant, so I disagree. If we can fix children's health care right now through 2023, we should do it.

MARTIN: So you disagreed with the president?

GARRETT JR.: A hundred - yes, absolutely on that - 186 Democrats want to shut the government down and not fund children's health insurance. That's what was voted on last night. Look at the vote count.

MARTIN: Do you think you're going to get what you need to pass it in the Senate?

GARRETT JR.: You know what? I'm going to worry about the 5th District of Virginia. I'm going to worry about the vulnerable children therein. We have a chance to fix this problem through 2023. A hundred and eighty-six Democrats voted against doing that last night and for shutting down the government.

They can say whose fault it is all they want. If the American people can count - and I think they can - then they'll know that the Democrats are the ones who are voting in vast majorities to shut down the government. And Republicans are trying to keep it open and solve this CHIP problem.

MARTIN: Again, Republicans are in control of all branches of power. We'll have to leave the conversation there.

Republican representative Tom Garrett of Virginia, thank you.

GARRETT JR.: Just do the math. You have a great day. God bless y'all. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.