WASHINGTON (MNI) - As the White House and Congress move toward a showdown in the coming weeks over both the fiscal year 2014 funding bill and the debt ceiling, there are many familiar aspects to this brewing battle.
Both the President and the Speaker are staking out tough positions, partisan rhetoric is escalating, and threats are growing.
But budget experts are worried there are some unique aspects to this coming fight that could lead to a serious, albeit inadvertent, crisis.
Leadership on both Capitol Hill and from the White House seems weak and almost completely reactive. There are divisions within both parities, but especially among Republicans between pragmatists and revolutionaries. And critical channels of communication and negotiation do not appear to be functioning.
"No one seems to have an end game or a strategy. Everything seems reactive and ad hoc," said Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition.
"There is no negotiation going on and everyone seems to accept a bad result as a foregone conclusion, so most of the effort seems to be channeled toward avoiding getting blamed for whatever happens. It seems quite possible we could have at least a brief government shutdown, largely by accident," Bixby said.
Bill Hoagland, a former Senate Republican budget staff director and now a vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said a fiscal standoff seems increasingly likely.
"This is obviously a very messy situation. Neither party seems to have a clear game plan here," says Hoagland.
"It seems like Speaker Boehner just wants to get the CR (stop-gap funding bill) out of the House and let the Senate try to figure out a compromise. And I think the Senate will probably get to one eventually. But there is a real possibility of a government shutdown, at least for a few days," said Hoagland.
House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday the House GOP is drafting fiscal year 2014 funding and debt ceiling legislation which defund Obamacare.
The House is expected to vote on the FY'14 spending bill Friday and debt ceiling legislation next week.
Boehner's tone at the Wednesday briefing was both defiant and defensive. He acknowledged there are "a lot of divergent opinions" among House Republicans on fiscal policy and stopped far short of declaring that the House GOP will press its effort to defund Obamacare to the very end.
"We're going to put Obamacare defunding directly into the CR. And then we're going to send it over to the Senate so our conservative allies over there can continue the fight. That's where the fight is," Boehner said.
"The fight over here (the House) has been won. It's time for the Senate to have that fight," he added.
Hoagland said he assumes the Senate will strip out the Obamacare defunding provision on the stop-gap and may keep a watered down version on the debt ceiling.
But he said the path ahead may be very rocky.
"Senator (Republican leader Mitch) McConnell has some political issues that will limit his ability to negotiate. And Majority Leader Harry Reid has been saying things about Republicans that will not make any eventual negotiations go very smoothly," Hoagland said.
Reid said Wednesday the House GOP is considering a number of "absurd ideas" and "really strange and weird" proposals on fiscal legislation that he will oppose.
Senate Democrats will not accept any legislation that defunds the 2010 Affordable Care Act, Reid said, noting that many Republicans in Congress are "anarchists."
The FY'14 stop-gap spending bill is expected to keep the government funded until Dec 15. It is necessary because the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1 and Congress has failed to pass any of the necessary spending bills to fund government operations.
The stop-gap was scheduled to come to the House floor last Thursday, but the measure was delayed until this week. Some Republicans wanted to pass a companion resolution that would defund the health care law and require the Senate to vote on that measure before taking up the stop-gap bill. Other Republicans viewed that strategy as a mere gesture that would have little practical effect and wanted to attach the defunding provision to the underlying stop-gap bill.
The underlying FY 2014 stop-gap spending bill would fund the federal government at a level of $986 billion until the middle of December.