The federal fiscal year doesn’t end until Sept. 30 but congressional lawmakers are already playing a game of chicken over a potential government shutdown.
The current battlefields are defense appropriations bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The $579 billion House defense bill and a similar Senate measure boost military spending by sidestepping spending caps mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
The Republican-sponsored bills bolster the Pentagon budget by increasing the Overseas Contingency Operations account, a fund that’s supposed to be used to fight wars and isn’t subject to budget-cutting sequestration caps.
Democrats and the White House have railed against the move. Tuesday, the White House issued a veto threat, saying the House bill’s use of the overseas contingency fund "to circumvent budget caps in defense ignores the long-term connection between national security and economic security and fails to account for vital national security functions carried out at non-defense agencies."
In addition, congressional Democratic leaders have vowed to block defense legislation and other appropriations bills if spending caps aren’t raised across the board.
"It appears to me (with) what the Republicans are doing that we’re headed for another shutdown," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday. "They did it once. They’re going to do it again."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., penned a "Dear Colleague" letter urging members of her caucus to vote against the defense bill when it goes to the House floor for passage late Wednesday. The Senate is currently debating its defense bill.
"Our sustaining the president’s veto, combined with the Senate Democrats’ refusal to allow appropriations bills, including Defense, to come to the Senate floor is the key to unlocking sequestration for defense and non-defense," Pelosi wrote.
Republicans were unfazed. They said it’s the Democrats, not Republicans, who are itching for a government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., all but dared Democratic lawmakers to block a defense bill.
"At a moment of dangerous and gathering threats, here’s the position of these Democratic leaders: They want to hold hostage the funding needed to make our troops combat-ready so they can spend more on bureaucracies like the IRS," McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "These Democratic leaders just can’t seem to kick the gridlock habit…"
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, accused Democrats of employing a "cynical political strategy to keep the Senate from working and to deny funding to our armed services while bulking up federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the I.R.S."