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Government Shutdown Looms in the Fall

Bill Clark/Roll Call
House Appropriations ranking member Norm Dicks and panel member Rep. Jim Moran are bracing for another spending fight over appropriations bills that are due to be passed by Sept. 30.

“I am certain the Members of the Congress have enough sense,” Inouye said Friday. Inouye’s answer is indicative of his wish not to revisit the turmoil in Congress that consumed Members for much of the first half of this year.

With the August recess almost here, differences in fiscal 2012 spending are now starting to come to a head. Democrats charge that allocations for the House spending bills are inadequate to meet the nation’s needs.

On the House Interior and environment appropriations bill, for example, Dicks said $27.47 billion is not enough.

“The allocation that the Republican leadership gave this bill was exceedingly low. That’s the root of the problem,” House Appropriations ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said Monday. “It contains the lowest level of spending in the Land and Water Conservation Fund in more than 40 years.”

But Republicans contend that spending needs to be curbed significantly to rein in the deficit and put the nation on a more fiscally sustainable path.

To date, the House has passed six of the 12 annual appropriations bills, and House GOP leaders hope to get the Interior and environment appropriations bill through the chamber this week. The Senate has passed only one spending measure, the military construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill.

Still, Congressional leaders and the White House are heatedly negotiating a deficit reduction package that would win enough support in Congress to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2, when the Treasury Department has said the nation is expected to begin to run out of money.

The sticking point on the deficit package has been taxes, though the levels of future spending also are at stake. But currently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are pursuing divergent bills. Reid said a Democratic plan to boost the debt limit includes discretionary funding figures for both fiscal 2012 and 2013.

“I am assuming [the debt ceiling deal] would affect [the fiscal 2012] money. ... So at some point in time, we would have to reallocate either the pluses or minuses, and that will take some time,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said last week.

He said the negotiations are “occupying everyone’s attention and have knocked us off of our schedule.”

But Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said he was optimistic that a spending fight could be avoided by a deal on the debt limit or through talks with his Senate counterparts.

“We may have a difficult time, but we will resolve it,” Simpson said.

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