POLITICS: PennAve

Lawmakers already bracing for fiscal fights this fall

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Steve Contorno,Senate,Legislative Branch,House of Representatives,Federal Budget,Debt Ceiling,PennAve,Budgets and Deficits

Democrats and Republicans are already digging in on a fight over several fiscal crises that Congress will face when it returns from its August recess.

Looming in September are a pair of budget battles — one to raise the nation's debt ceiling and another to continue funding the federal government — that have become a familiar battlegrounds for the White House and Republican leadership. With immigration reform slowly working through the House and a docket of largely noncontroversial measures scheduled before next week's session wrap up, lawmakers this week shifted focus to the fall showdown.

Republicans have already taken hardline positions in anticipation of the upcoming debate and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, reiterated Tuesday that spending cuts must be part of any agreement to increase the country's borrowing authority.

"We're not going to raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending," Boehner said. "It's as simple as that."

President Obama and congressional Democrats have been equally adamant that they will not make any concessions to Republicans to reach an agreement. A stalemate would cause the country to default on its obligations and perhaps lead to another downgrade of the government's credit rating sometime in October or November.

"In effect, what they're doing is they're taking their own child hostage, their child in this case being the United States of America's credit, taking their own child hostage, and telling us, 'If you don't pay ransom, we're gonna shoot our own child,'" said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

A six-month stopgap funding measure to keep the government funded is also scheduled for action in September, and a failure to act could lead to another government shutdown. Hoyer criticized Republicans like Sens. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and Mike Lee, of Utah, for signing onto a pledge to oppose the temporary funding bill unless Obamacare is defunded.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would not say if he supports that pledge, noting instead that "our main goal going into year-end discussion is not [to] walk away from the bipartisan agreement we made two years ago."

Complicating matters further is the Republican-controlled House's refusal to pass a budget in hopes that that would give them greater leverage. The Senate already passed a spending plan and is pressuring the House to bring something to the negotiating table soon.

Democrats are eager to undo the massive across-the-board spending cuts known as "sequestration," the byproduct of a similar debt ceiling showdown in 2011. But Republicans remain willing to keep those cuts in place.

"I know the administration is anxious to undo the commitment to the bill the president signed. I'm sure they'll want to talk about sequester relief," McConnell said. "I think it's important to tell the American people we made this commitment on a bipartisan basis two years ago and I agree to keep it if we're going to have any chance to move forward on spending reductions."

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