By Alan Greenblatt
It’s going to be another ugly fall in Washington.
The federal government runs out of money on Oct. 1, unless spending authority is granted to agencies for the new fiscal year. If Congress can’t pass its spending bills by then, most of the government will shut down.
It’s no empty threat. Many who watch the budget process closely think there’s a very good chance that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
“I’m afraid it’s more likely than not,” says Scott Lilly, a former Democratic staff director on the House Appropriations Committee. “How much time has to pass before Congress finds out that people are really angry?”
Action in both the Senate and House prior to the current congressional recess suggests that any sort of a deal is a long way away. And the two chambers will be in session together a total of only nine days before the deadline.
The House and Senate are currently about $90 billion apart in terms of total spending. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, Congress will also have to grapple with the politically charged issue of raising the nation’s debt ceiling sometime in the fall.
House Speaker John Boehner has said he’ll insist on spending cuts equal to any increase in the debt limit. Regardless of whether he holds to that, it’s going to be a challenge to find enough votes in the House GOP majority to vote for any sort of a budget package that the Democratic-controlled Senate will also approve — and that President Obama will sign.
Compounding the difficulty is the fact that a number of congressional Republicans say they want to block any new spending unless Obama’s health law, the Affordable Care Act, is defunded. Many also want cuts triggered by the sequester law shifted from defense to domestic programs — something Democrats are not keen to endorse.