Members of Congress return to Washington, D.C., next month after a six-week recess, and one of the first items up for business will be to agree on a plan to avoid even the prospect of a government shutdown.
The current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, which means the money Congress has appropriated will run out, forcing both chambers to find another spending agreement to keep the government running.
There's a strong chance, however, that the conflict--if there even is one to speak of--will be resolved quickly.
The Senate has not passed a budget in more than two years, so Congress instead has relied on a series of short-term stop-gap resolutions to fund the government. Since Republicans took control of the House in January, the party has demanded significant reductions in the growth of government spending, leading to multiple near-shutdowns. But this time, Republican leaders say they're content with the spending levels they have already agreed to.
The hope rests in the agreement made to raise the debt ceiling. As part of the compromise passed in August, Congress allocated $1 trillion in discretionary spending, including defense--a $7 trillion reduction from 2011 spending levels. The so-called super committee will spend the next three months looking for even more ways to cut over the next decade.
"While all of us would like to have seen a lower discretionary appropriations ceiling for the upcoming fiscal year, the debt limit agreement did set a level of spending that is a real cut from the current year level," wrote House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, in a memo to his caucus earlier this month. "I believe it is in our interest to enact into law full-year appropriations bills at this new lower level."
House Appropriations Committee Chair Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, also signaled that his committee is working to craft a series of spending bills at the levels set by the agreement.
"My committee members and I remain committed to the responsible 2012 spending level agreed to by the House, Senate, and White House under the recent debt ceiling agreement," Rogers said.
When contacted, a representative from Republican House Speaker John Boehner's office referred to Cantor and Rogers' statements, a sign that there's unity among party leaders.
But the members of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative House caucus whose members have been the driving force behind the cuts enacted in the past year, are currently weighing whether they want to use the deadline to demand even more cuts. The committee sent surveys to each member last week to gauge the appetite for a spending fight, and they expect to hear back from most of them after Labor Day. It is possible that many of them will push for the spending levels within House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's plan, which would cut $24 billion more than the debt ceiling agreement.