A 'Million Options' for Funding Government, But No Clear Path Forward

There are a “million options being discussed by a lot of people,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. There are a “million options being discussed by a lot of people,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

With just weeks left to avoid a government shutdown, congressional leadership expressed uncertainty Thursday on the path forward for funding government.

There are a “million options being discussed by a lot of people,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a press conference held at the Capitol Building Thursday. But he declined to elaborate on details in any of the hypothetical plans.

Boehner was forced to delay a vote on a bill to fund federal agencies from the start of fiscal 2014 on Oct. 1 until Dec. 15 after the most conservative members of his caucus refused to support the stopgap measure.

Tea Party Republicans were not satisfied with a concurrent resolution that defunds the 2010 Affordable Care Act, as Democrats in the Senate could have easily defeated it and simply passed the continuing resolution.

“They don’t want a show vote, they want a shutdown,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said of House Tea Partiers at a Democratic press conference Thursday. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., echoed the sentiment.

“Their direction is a direction to shutting down the government,” Reid said. “This is not the time for political stunts.”

One of these so-called stunts, Reid said, is a Republican-led effort to strip health insurance subsidies for lawmakers and their staffs, who will now enter into the newly created marketplace. Reid said while the Affordable Care Act requires members and staffers to give up enrollment in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, there is “nothing unique” about employers providing health care benefits.

Even if Congress is able to survive the Sept. 30 deadline and avoid a government shutdown, lawmakers face another battle on the debt ceiling in mid-October. Boehner vowed to use the debt ceiling as leverage to ensure further spending cuts, despite the White House and congressional Democrats repeatedly saying the issue is non-negotiable.  

“We have a spending problem, period,” Boehner said. “And it needs to be dealt with.” He added that historically, votes to raise the debt ceiling have been coupled with deals to cut back on government expenditures.

“We dare [Republicans] to risk the full faith and credit of the U.S. government,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at the Democrats’ press conference. “They will lose.”

Federal government spending has taken a significant dive in fiscal 2013, thanks in large part to sequestration. The automatic cuts -- which went into effect after a debt ceiling agreement in 2011 -- have trimmed spending by $80 billion in fiscal 2013.

The continuing resolution put forth by the House Appropriations Committee earlier this week, extrapolated out to cover all of fiscal 2014, would allocate $1.09 trillion for federal spending -- according to the Congressional Budget Office -- $986.3 billion of which would be subject to sequester caps. The Defense portion of the funding would come in $20 billion above the sequester spending cap, while the non-defense portion would be $1 billion less than the requisite limit.

Congress has scheduled a week-long recess starting Sept. 23, which would give lawmakers just five days to vote on a spending measure and avoid a shutdown. But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on the House Floor Thursday that the lower chamber may cancel the recess.

At least one senator -- Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma -- rejected the CBO-scored continuing resolution since it exceeds the spending caps, and promised to oppose a debt ceiling hike if funding is not lowered. Reid said he expects the sequestration fight to continue closer to Jan. 15 -- the date the automatic cuts would take effect for fiscal 2014 -- and Democrats renewed their promise to avoid the spending limits.

“We are unified in our caucus that we need to replace sequestration,” Murray said. 

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