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If you thought this week was bad, get used to it. The dysfunction in Congress is likely to make Capitol Hill life miserable for at least the next two months — if it doesn’t consume yet another holiday season.
The most Congress seems able to manage lately is to keep the lights on for a little longer so they can keep arguing over the budget and Obamacare — and even that has been in jeopardy. And members are starting to feel fatigued by the constant brinkmanship.
“It’s not just frustrating, it’s maddening,” said Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat who has long pushed for a grand bargain on the debt.
“I’ve started chopping wood just to relieve the frustration,” he said.
But for Cooper and other lawmakers, the dance over the debt ceiling has barely begun, with a 17-day sprint until what Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew warns would be the nation’s first default on its obligations in history if one side doesn’t blink.
Even if that hurdle is cleared, Congress will have to find a way to fund the budget for the rest of the year.
The pressure has been intense with the band of conservative Republicans demanding a defunding of the health care law clashing with party leadership’s fears of a politically disastrous shutdown to follow.
This week’s marathon speech by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, demanding the defunding of Obamacare and calling out his fellow Republicans helped generate thousands of phone calls to GOP offices — some of which, lawmakers said, were abusive, brought staffers to tears and generated behind-the-scenes confrontations inside the GOP.
Capitol Hill staffers have been watching the debate intently, with their own health insurance benefits at stake as well.
And much of Washington has been wondering whether they will be told to go to work in the event of a shutdown and when they will get paid if they do.
Shutdown clocks have become part of the political theater. Debt limit clocks are next.
Democrats have largely been playing defense — trying to preserve Obamacare. Republicans have been on offense, but without much to show for it this year.
The result has been a stalemate that has been frustrating for lawmakers in both parties. The sequester hasn’t been replaced two years after it was intended to bring Congress together on a deal. The health care law remains largely intact. And a host of assorted other issues — from immigration to energy to a farm bill extension — are struggling to get across the finish line.
While Democrats readily expressed their irritation, Republicans are generally more sanguine. Their efforts to defund, delay and dismantle Obamacare are about listening to their constituents, they say.