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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.

Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., also responded pointedly to Boehner, renewing her call for a House-Senate conference committee.

“Republicans are refusing to allow us to go to conference for one reason, and that’s because they want to force a manufactured crisis over the debt limit this fall, because they think it will give them leverage,” Murray said. “So let’s be clear about which side is reckless today. Democrats want to get to work right now.”

A number of Senate conservatives have called on Murray to disavow any attempt to raise the debt limit through reconciliation, which has contributed to a regular series of standoffs on the floor.

“That’s always a concern. You’ve got to stay within the numbers, and that’s our concern. We have a difference of about $90 billion between what we think and what the Democrats [think],” Shelby said.

There is a related concern among some lawmakers that the House is moving first on easier-to-pass bills (funding veterans, homeland security and the military), potentially increasing pressure in the months ahead to blow through the caps to pass more contentious domestic spending bills.

“My concern is that we don’t stick to ... the budget control agreement that we agreed to. That’s the concern of the House, and there’s some concern that the sequence of bills will ensure — that time-honored practice in the House — the way you sequence them means you bust the budget in the end,” Sen. Jeff Flake said on Wednesday. The Arizona Republican is a frequent critic of the appropriations process.

“That’s always been a concern in marking up appropriation bills. I mean, whichever ones go first tend to get into the money early and then ... the later bills get harder and harder to do,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the Republican leadership.

Still, some appropriators maintained their optimism.

“I am hopeful that we’ll get a significant number of bills passed in the right way. I’m eager to see us get to the point where we’re passing all the bills in the right way,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said. “I hope we make real progress toward that goal this year, and I’m sure that Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Shelby share that.”

Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, the longtime chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee who is responsible for what’s among the most difficult bills to pass, said he does not want to get stuck near the end of the line, which has happened in the past. Those departments have frequently operated on stopgap funding in lieu of a full appropriations measure.

“I hope we’re going to do Labor-H sooner rather than later,” Harkin said. “We’re not going to do it last this time.”

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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