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All of Washington’s attention might be focused on the debt ceiling debate, but even if Congress averts a catastrophic default by Aug. 2, another partisan brawl over a government shutdown could be just around the corner.
In fact, Members of Congress say they are already bracing for it.
“I think we very well could [have another standoff] in September because we probably have half a dozen appropriations bills that are not going to get passed” before the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, House Appropriations Committee member Jim Moran (D-Va.) said.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another Appropriations member, said he also expects to be at loggerheads with Democrats over fiscal 2012 spending come the end of September. He blamed Senate Democrats for delaying the process. “We’ve been there every year,” Flake said.
Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.), a tea-party-backed freshman, said he, too, believes there will be a fight over spending in September.
“Around here, I would expect it,” said Nugent, who also pinned the blame on the Senate.
The delay in action on the fiscal 2012 spending bills is due, in part, to the increasingly intense focus on the debt ceiling debate.
In April, the GOP-led House approved its budget resolution, which included a $30 billion cut from last year’s level. But the Senate, where Democrats have the majority, put off pursuing a budget resolution — as well as work on spending bills — in hopes of getting the top-line spending limit in the deal to raise the debt ceiling. Failure to address fiscal 2012 spending in the debt deal will leave a cloud of uncertainty over the appropriations process for the year.
“That may very well resolve it,” Moran said. “If we get reasonable ... allocations [in the debt ceiling package], then that may mean we would not have that kind of crisis at the end of September.”
Of course, even if House GOP leaders and Senate Democratic leaders can agree on a spending limit for 2012 appropriations, the stark differences between the parties and chambers could still make individual bills, or even an omnibus measure, difficult to pass.
A showdown over 2012 appropriations would mark the third time this year that Congress has endangered funding for the government over partisan disputes on spending levels. Besides the brinksmanship on the debt limit, House and Senate leaders narrowly avoided a government shutdown earlier this year.
Before the eleventh-hour deal on spending in mid-April, Congress passed seven short-term extensions to keep the government funded while negotiations continued.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said he is hopeful an agreement can be reached on fiscal 2012 spending levels and a funding fracas can be avoided.