WASHINGTON -- With the federal government heading toward a possible
Congress tends to resolve tough problems only at the final hour, when all other avenues have narrowed.
This latest round of brinkmanship, led by
The tea party conservatives have vowed to block any effort to provide money for federal agencies after the end of the current budget year unless Obama agrees to a measure that would stop his signature healthcare law from going into effect. Obama has rejected that idea.
Any hoped for resolution to the drama has been pushed off until at least next Monday, hours before the deadline to keep the government funded into the new federal fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” said Rep.
Here's a quick guide to the week ahead:
Monday – Senate Majority Leader
Democrats, with the majority in the Senate, have enough votes to strip the provision that would "defund" the health law. To stop them from doing that, tea party Republicans have promised a filibuster, putting them in the odd parliamentary position of trying to block debate on a bill that they support.
Filibusters take time -- that's the whole point of doing them. So the first key vote would not come until Wednesday at the earliest.
Tuesday – A week before the possible government shutdown, senators will begin returning to Washington, with lunch meetings scheduled for the afternoon as Reid and the Republican minority leader, Sen.
Wednesday – The first likely Senate vote. Under Senate rules, a supermajority of 60 votes would be needed to shut off the filibuster -- a move known as cloture -- and proceed with the bill. The Democratic caucus counts 54 senators, so at least six Republicans would need to vote against Cruz to move ahead. Cruz and his allies hope some Democrats, particularly those up for reelection from conservative states, might side with them although so far, no Democrats have said they would do so.
If cloture passes, which seems likely, debate can continue for up to 30 more hours.
House lawmakers also plan to begin returning to Washington.
Thursday – House Speaker
Assuming cloture passes sometime on Wednesday, the Senate would vote late Thursday to proceed with the bill. That requires a simple majority, which Reid would have, of 51 senators (or 50 with Vice President
Friday – If Boehner gets his way, the House could begin debating a debt ceiling bill; meanwhile, the Senate likely will continue to be engaged in a filibuster.
Saturday – The Senate likely will face another key vote -- this time, on ending debate over the bill, itself. Once again, Reid would have to find 60 votes. Tea party conservatives are expected to press hard on fellow Republicans not to yield. If cloture passes, that means another 30 hours of debate.
Sunday – If 60 members have agreed to stop the filibuster, the Senate, having spent the week in procedural wrangles, would take up a Democratic measure to restore money for implementing the health law. Since that would need only a simple majority, the measure would pass, and the Senate would then approve the final bill and send it back to the House.
Then what? Boehner's next move is unknown. Some Republicans believe he would simply allow the amended legislation to come to the floor where it could pass with support from most Democrats and some Republicans, even though many rank-and-file Republicans would be opposed.
Other Republicans say Boehner will have no choice but to try to amend the bill in the House with another, perhaps more modest, attempt to curtail the healthcare law. That would bounce the package back to the Senate with hours to go before the possible government shutdown.
Another option for Boehner would be simply to allow government agencies to close their doors and see what happens. The current authority to spend money would run out at midnight on Sept. 30. Officials say, however, that if Congress passed a money bill sometime during the day on Oct. 1, federal operations would not be interrupted.
The schedule next week for Congress is yet to be determined.
[Updated at 3:37 p.m. Sept. 23: This post has been updated with Monday's events, including Sen. Mitch McConnell's announcement that he would oppose the GOP filibuster.]