Despite promises that it won’t come to this, Congress and the White House are charging toward another government shutdown.
The next fiscal crisis could come as soon as Oct. 1 unless a new government spending plan is approved. But with House members having left Wednesday for summer recess and senators soon to follow, that leaves only about 10 legislative days next month to fix the problem, and there are no viable solutions in sight.
President Barack Obama has signaled his intention to bust, once and for all, the severe 2011 spending caps known as sequestration. He’s vowed to reject any GOP-backed appropriation bills that increase government funding for the military without also boosting domestic programs such as Head Start preschools and others important to Democrats.
The new Republican-controlled Congress is also digging in. GOP leaders had vowed to run Congress responsibly and prevent another government shutdown like the one in 2013, but their spending proposals are defying the president’s veto threat by bolstering defense accounts and leaving social-welfare programs to be slashed.
The 2016 presidential race is compounding the problem. Several Republican senators vying to become the party’s nominee are hoping to use the budget process to grab headlines and push their agendas — from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s campaign to defund Planned Parenthood to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s attempt to stop the nuclear deal with Iran. House Republicans want to overturn Obama’s immigration actions. Any such policy rider attached to a budget would be deal-breakers.
GOP leaders are resigned to a showdown. House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, on Wednesday allowed his majority to leave a day early for the long August recess, predicting Congress will have little choice next month but to pass a short-term budget extension to keep the government open. “We’ll deal with it in September,” he said.
And it’s not just the budget. A major highway funding program is on a temporary fix that runs out Oct. 29. And the nation’s debt ceiling will need to be lifted by late fall to avoid a damaging credit default.
The confluence of these deadlines raises the prospects for an all-encompassing year-end accord that could resolve all or most of the issues, but it also increases the risk of a crisis. So far there has been no visible progress toward any big budget deal.
“We know it’s coming,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the Republican whip. “We’re going to leave that fight until September, October, November, December.”
Obama, in a private meeting with Democrats at the White House in early July, called on Democratic senators to filibuster the GOP’s spending bills and prevent him from having to veto them. While many of the Republican bills have passed the House, they have not yet been put fully to the test in the Senate. Only a defense spending bill has come for a Senate vote, and it was filibustered.
Democrats are portraying Republicans as skirting their responsibilities, recalling the highly unpopular 16-day government shutdown in 2013 when Cruz led Republicans in a failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
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SOURCE: Tribune Washington Bureau, Lisa Mascaro