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Shutdown Talk Underlines Spending Bill Split

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
The White House and Boehner exchanged barbs Thursday over the potential for a shutdown showdown this fall.

The White House and Speaker John A. Boehner exchanged barbs Thursday over the potential for a shutdown showdown this fall, underscoring the yawning budget gap between the parties that threatens to torpedo this year’s appropriations bills.

The House passed the first fiscal 2014 spending bills this week despite two veto threats, and the Senate is set to mark up funding measures in the coming weeks. But the two chambers are operating off vastly different numbers — given that the House and Senate haven’t come close to reaching a budget deal — setting the stage for another stopgap spending bill this fall and, theoretically, a shutdown fight if the two sides can’t agree.

The House is following a $967 billion spending level that assumes the budget sequester remains in effect. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., has said she is moving forward at a $1.058 trillion level that operates on the idea Congress will find a fix for the sequester.

Her GOP counterpart, Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, said Appropriations Republicans in the Senate want to work off the House number.

“We’ve got a few problems,” an understated Shelby told CQ Roll Call in a brief interview, noting that the committee’s Republicans hadn’t yet decided on a strategy for the markups. “The bottom line is we’re going to stay with the figure, which is the lower figure, the House has agreed with.”

It was just that sort of dispute that seems to have prompted the administration’s unusually broad veto threat on Republican spending bills until there’s a budget agreement.

“In veto threats of two House spending bills — both of which passed with overwhelming support — the White House said the president would not sign any — any — spending bills unless we agree to his demands on a broader budget deal. In short, the president said give him higher taxes and higher spending or we’ll shut down the government,” Boehner said Thursday. “That’s reckless.”

Republican appropriators dismissed the veto threat earlier in the week, but Boehner said it violated his March 1 deal with the president to keep the appropriations bills separate from deficit talks. White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage responded to the Ohio Republican with some snark of her own.

“We were pleased to see Speaker Boehner hold a press conference today to announce the end of the Republican strategy of governing by crisis,” she said. “We look forward to seeing Republicans in Congress act responsibly to pay the bills they have already racked up, along with funding the government to avoid a government shutdown.” But she reiterated that the White House isn’t going to just go along with the Republican budget.

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