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The Senate is returning to Washington to face a deadline to avoid a shutdown

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

The Senate returns to Washington today after a monthlong August recess.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

And there's a lot on the agenda. First up is a fight over government funding that could turn into a potential shutdown. Yes, feels like we've been here before. And the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, faces questions after another episode when he froze at a public event.

ESTRIN: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now. Good morning.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning.

ESTRIN: Can Congress avoid a shutdown?

WALSH: You know, once again, they're going to be racing the clock. Federal agencies run out of cash on September 30, and the House and Senate haven't agreed on any of the 12 annual spending bills. The problem is the two chambers aren't even working off of the same math. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden negotiated a debt ceiling deal in May that set overall government spending levels. But a group of House conservatives who didn't like that deal forced the speaker to craft bills at a lower level. The Senate is sticking to the deal. So essentially the two are on a collision course.

There's broad agreement that Congress needs to pass a short-term bill to avoid a shutdown. They're working on what's called a continuing resolution, or CR, to keep agencies funded at the current levels through this fall. But even that CR is going to be a fight. Some far-right conservatives have issued demands about attaching items, things like a partisan border security bill. So they're still pretty far apart.

ESTRIN: OK. And besides avoiding a shutdown, what else is on the agenda?

WALSH: Disaster aid and money for Ukraine are the two big things the Biden administration wants Congress to pass this fall. The White House has asked for about $16 billion in emergency aid to respond to the recent disaster needs coming out of Maui after the fires and the floods and the hurricanes that hit several states this summer. The other big ask is about $20 billion for Ukraine. Even though there's bipartisan support for continuing aid for Ukraine on the Hill, some conservatives still don't want to approve any money.

ESTRIN: Let's talk about top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell. He froze up, struggled to speak for about 30 seconds at a press event. This is the second time that's happened in two months. How is he doing?

WALSH: I mean, that's the big question. The Capitol physician has cleared McConnell to work. But this latest episode, combined with the other one you mentioned, were just really jarring, and there's still a lot of questions. In March, McConnell fell and suffered a concussion, and the Capitol physician said lightheadedness was a symptom of recovering from that concussion. So far, Senate Republican colleagues have supported the 81-year-old senator. But there's going to be so much attention on his appearance on the floor later today and in his weekly press conference tomorrow.

ESTRIN: The House returns next week, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy is signaling an impeachment inquiry is moving ahead. So what basis is there of possible high crimes or misdemeanors by the president?

WALSH: House Republicans haven't presented one yet. They haven't uncovered any evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden. Some are alleging corruption related to his son Hunter Biden's business deals during the time Biden was vice president. But they haven't shown that the president himself received any financial benefit. McCarthy's coming under increasing pressure from conservatives, especially after the new indictments of former President Trump over the summer. But there's a split. Some Republican moderates do not want to move ahead without concrete evidence, and McCarthy did say to a conservative outlet he won't start impeachment without a vote. It's unclear whether he has those votes right now.

ESTRIN: NPR's Deirdre Walsh, thank you.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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