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Budget Talks: ‘Perils of Pauline’ or ‘Hangover Part II’?

It’s also not at all clear at this point how much of an opportunity there will be to do this on Oct. 1. That would be just five weeks before Election Day, and shutting down the government that close to when voters go to the polls might not be the best political strategy. It also would keep Representatives and Senators in Washington when they would much prefer to be home campaigning. That may especially be the case this year, given Congress’ incredibly low approval ratings and growing speculation about massive losses by incumbents.

The debt ceiling also won’t be an issue. Although there was some concern a few months ago that the increases in the amount the government may borrow allowed under the Budget Control Act — the deal agreed to in August — might not be enough to get past the election, those worries seem to have disappeared recently with the appearance of some hopeful signs that the economy is picking up.

And there will be no presidential or Congressional commission or super committee this year to stoke the budget fires.

That leaves the payroll tax rate extension that expires at the end of February as the only possible budget-related cliffhanger before the election. Given the political problems the extension created for House Republicans in December, it’s not even clear that will be much of a fight this time.

That’s not to say that there are no budget deadlines this year. In addition to the payroll tax cut extension at the start of 2013, the current debt ceiling may have to be increased before the end of this year, although not before the election. Some decision about the Bush-Obama tax cuts will have to be made before they expire at midnight on Dec. 31. And any effort to prevent, delay or mitigate the fiscal 2013 portion of the $1.2 trillion spending cut that was triggered when the hardly super committee failed effectively has to be enacted before it’s set to begin Jan. 2.

But all of that is most likely to happen in a lame-duck session next November and December. There will be few, and perhaps no, hostage-taking opportunities between now and then.

Stan Collender is a partner at Qorvis Communications and founder of the blog Capital Gains and Games. He is also the author of “The Guide to the Federal Budget.”

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