Here We Go Again: Congress Squabbling as Another Shutdown Looms

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Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call / Newscom

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, holds his weekly news conference in the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 3, 2011

In case you haven’t heard, the government is at risk of shutting down in two weeks. On Nov. 18 the federal government risks running out of funding yet again unless Congress can pass a budget for fiscal year 2012.

On Wednesday, the 175-member conservative Republican Study Committee warned House GOP leaders that they were unhappy with the deal cut during the debt ceiling negotiations in August. As part of that agreement, the 2012 budget was capped at $1.043 trillion, representing a discretionary spending cut of only $7 billion – far too little in the eyes of the Tea Party crowd.

If conservatives House members oppose the budget, Republican leaders will have to rely on Democratic votes to get the bill through. 182 Dems have sent a letter to GOP leaders urging them not to include any policy riders – budget amendments on political hot topics such as abortion, health care reform, global warming and financial regulation that are almost always killed in the Senate. So, over the next week, the RSC will have to mull what’s more important to them: pushing for riders or angling for more cuts.

Usually outspoken members on the Hill have drawn little attention to this brewing battle and for good reason. The last two embarrassing episodes that threatened to shutter the government sank congressional approval ratings into the single digits. House GOP leaders, sensing voter fatigue, are not eager for another round of brinkmanship. Which is why they greeted the RSC’s latest outrage with a shrug. “I’ve got the impression we’ve got the votes with or without [the RSC],” a source close to the process told Politico’s Jonathan Allen.

Virtually no one on the Hill thinks the government will shut down this time. Congress has actually made headway on at least half of its 13 annual appropriations bills for the first time in nearly three years, a relatively amazing display of functionality for an institution that has repeatedly proven its inefficacy this year.

That said, no one expected the last minute hiccups that nearly shut down the government in October, so there’s certainly a chance that things will turn sour. And, just in case we don’t get our monthly dose of dysfunction on Nov. 18, the deficit supercommittee’s deadline for finding $1.2 trillion in budget savings is just five days later. Failure to reach an agreement by then wouldn’t really end negotiations on Pennsylvania Avenue, but it could spark panic on Wall Street. You gotta love the members of the 112th Congress. When they aren’t busy bringing the federal government to the brink of closure, they’re tanking financial markets.

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