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Showdown Is a No-Win Situation in Third Budget Battle of the Year

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
From left: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders gathered before a Friday news conference to discuss the possibility of a government shutdown.

It wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

Democrats and Republicans agreed almost two months ago on fiscal 2012 spending levels as part of their deal to raise the debt ceiling. But despite their best efforts to avoid a third spending fight this year, Congress is engaged in another government shutdown battle stemming from a disagreement over disaster funding, a move that is likely to keep both parties unpopular with voters.

It also bodes poorly for Nov. 18, when the continuing resolution currently under debate is expected to expire and Congress will again have to act to keep the government open.

Lawmakers have through Friday, the end of the fiscal year, to pass the stopgap funding bill, or federal programs will run out of money.

“I wish every high school student in America could observe their government in action, their taxpayer dollars at work,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said sarcastically of the standoff Friday.

Similarly, Sen. Mark Warner said Sunday that the current situation is “embarrassing.”

“Can we once again inflict on the country and the American people the spectacle of a near government shutdown? I sure as heck hope not,” the Virginia Democrat said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, just 12 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job. That figure matches Congress’ all-time low approval rating, which was hit in October 2008 as the nation was in the throes of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“All this thrashing back ’n’ forth, it may contribute to putting our approval rating from 12 [percent] down into single digits; it could be to 8 or 9,” McCain said. “Then you are at paid staffers and blood relatives.”

Still, he added: “It is going to work out one way or another. I do not predict how, but I know it will because we are not going to deprive those people of the aid that they deserve from this government.”

The current showdown centers on Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funding. The GOP-led House passed a continuing resolution Thursday, but Democrats, who control the Senate, oppose it because they say the $3.6 billion for disaster aid is inadequate and they oppose cuts in the measure designed to offset about $1.1 billion of the emergency spending.

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