Budget brinkmanship grips DC

Greg Nash

Republicans and Democrats are locked in an increasingly bitter debate over government spending, with few legislative weeks remaining to avoid another shutdown this fall.

Bolstered by veto threats from President Obama, Senate Democrats are vowing to block all GOP spending bills, arguing the legislative work is pointless until Republicans come to the negotiating table.

“Republicans’ current appropriations strategy is only driving our nation toward another government shutdown,” House Democratic leaders said in a letter sent last month.

Republicans, meanwhile, have slammed Democrats as using obstructionist tactics, labeling their strategy the “filibuster summer.”

Democrats need to “pull their party back from a senseless path of forcing endless filibusters and a shutdown no one wants but the hard left,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellCures bill in jeopardy amid drug pricing push Senate Democratic super PAC sets fundraising record Five takeaways from Florida Senate debate MORE (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech.

The debate is certain to heat up when lawmakers return from the July 4th recess, with no guarantee that lawmakers can find a way to avoid the second shutdown of the federal government in two years.

With Democrats standing in the way of the normal appropriations bills, some experts predict Congress will be forced to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded past Sept .30.

"At this particular point, I think it’s a déjà vu,” said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

"I expect we are headed toward a continuing resolution, a continuing resolution that would probably run into as late as November or December,” he said.

Congress is scheduled to break for the month-long recess in August, giving lawmakers a few weeks in July and September to resolve the funding impasse.

The House is steadily moving through all 12 spending bills for fiscal 2016, and will finish work on a funding bill for the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department after the July 4th break.

House Republicans have already passed six of the 12 annual appropriations measures. By mid-July, all 12 will have been marked up by the House Appropriations panel, spokeswoman Jennifer Hing told The Hill.

But those appropriations bills are hitting a dead-end in the Senate, with Republicans unable to break the filibusters being waged by the Democratic minority.

Democrats have already blocked legislation to fund the Pentagon, and appear comfortable with the strategy despite the political risks.

“Ultimately, they could get blamed if there’s a shutdown or a continuing resolution or lack of a budget deal. There is some risk there,” said Stan Collender, executive vice president at Qorvis MSLGROUP.

Democrats say they are ready to negotiate a deal with the GOP to lift the spending ceilings imposed by the Budget Control Act, and say it’s up to McConnell and BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Top Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE to start the process.

Republicans have rebuffed those requests, instead putting the onus on Obama to request budget talks.

“He hasn't asked. He hasn't asked. It's as simple as that,” Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a press conference last month. “And we've got a plan. We've got a plan that gives him what he wants for defense and keeps the caps in place. And if he wants to have a budget negotiation, all he has to do is ask. I'm a pretty reasonable guy.”

At a recent markup of a Senate spending bill, McConnell accused Democrats of “making the Senate look bad” by holding up the legislation.

“When does this ever stop? Huh? When does it ever stop?” McConnell said. “The only way to stop this is for you to insist that we start functioning again.”

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Wikileaks: Durbin pushed unknown Warren for Obama bank regulator The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Ill.) insisted Democrats are just trying to speed up the process so that Congress doesn’t face another shutdown in the fall or around the holidays.

“Should we start this conversation about our appropriations bills on June 18 or wait until Sept. 28 or Dec. 23?” Durbin asked. “I think history will show that if we start this conversation in June, we could come to a productive result.”

Given the growing stalemate on Capitol Hill, a final deal around the holidays could be inevitable, observers say.

“I see this headed toward some sort of mega-negotiation around a series of issues later this fall,” Hoagland said.

The talks could lead to a major package of legislation that lifts spending limits, raises the debt ceiling, extends expiring tax provisions and deals with the Highway Trust Fund, Hoagland said.

In 2013, after Congress fought through a 16-day government shutdown, Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanCures bill in jeopardy amid drug pricing push Brent Budowsky: An epic battle for the future of Congress NRCC ad touts GOP rep for bucking Trump MORE (R-Wis.) and Patty MurrayPatty MurrayWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress Senate Dems demand answers from Wells Fargo over treatment of military A fight for new rights MORE (D-Wash.) worked out a deal that December to raise spending limit.

Lawmakers from both parties now want to replicate that agreement, which had lifted the threat of a shutdown for two years.

Ryan and Murray are no longer the leaders of the Budget Committees, but Collender said that shouldn’t preclude them from taking on the role of negotiator.

“Just because Ryan and Murray aren’t in the same position doesn’t mean they couldn’t be picked by leadership to do this negotiation again,” he said. ”That would make a great deal of sense from a PR standpoint. Plus the negotiations could happen relatively quickly since they know each other, they know the issues.”

Hoagland, however, believes the negotiations are likely to happen at the leadership level.

“I don’t see this being resolved like a Murray-Ryan. I sense this has to be resolved with a Boehner, McConnell, Obama at the end of the day,” he said.

“I don’t care which direction they go on Pennsylvania Ave., but at some point, they’re going to have to meet to resolve this difference.”