Congress gets ready for a summer break

Like college students putting off their homework until it absolutely has to be done, the Congress will clock in for a few more days this week and then beat it out of town until September 9, far behind as usual on the budget work for next year.

In other words, a lot of verbal pot shots are expected this week than progress in the budget arena.

Of the 12 spending bills that must be finished by September 30, the House has approved only four - and just one is on the schedule this week.

Of the 12 spending bills that must be finished by September 30, the Senate has not approved any - and just one is on the schedule this week.

A handful of lawmakers have suggested scrapping the August break and staying at work to finish those appropriations bills, but that has as much chance of happening as I have of qualifying for the U.S. Open (in either golf or tennis.)

As for what will get done this week, Republicans will bring a series of reform bills to the House floor, labeling it "Stop Government Abuse Week."

Democrats meanwhile will try to finish a Transportation-Housing spending bill, ready to accuse the GOP of embracing gridlock if that bill runs aground in the U.S. Senate.

As for the Senate, don't look for Senators to be voting on a Friday for the first time since March - an email that went out late last week said two Democratic Senators would be in Iowa for a Friday morning event, which tells me Senators will be on planes home some time on Thursday afternoon.

This reporter would comment from the peanut gallery that if you don't work on Friday, you might fall behind on your work.

Meanwhile, the House floor work schedule calls for a four day work week this week, then five weeks off, two four day work weeks, followed by a week off.

And then, it's suddenly the week of September 30, which is the last day of the current fiscal year.

This reporter would comment from the peanut gallery that if you aren't in Washington, D.C. most of the time between now and the September 30 deadline, it's sort of hard to complete the budget and more.

But we digress.

At some point during September both sides will have to agree on a stop gap budget to keep the government running, or else we will have a government shutdown starting on October 1.

Let's go through my three most likely government shutdown scenarios:

#1 - White House demands a budget deal that wipes away the automatic budget cuts through a mix of new tax increases and other budget cuts; Republicans refuse to go along and the government shuts down.

#2 - Republicans demand a temporary budget deal that zeroes out funding for the Obama health reform law; the White House and Democrats refuse, and the government shuts down.

#3 - $91 billion apart, Democrats and Republicans simply are unable to agree on funding level for stop gap budget; so, on October 1, the government shuts down.

Democrats are currently offering a discretionary budget plan that spends $1.058 trillion (current law, pre-sequester levels) while the GOP is at $967 billion (current law, post-sequester funding levels).

Could a government shutdown happen? Sure it could. Will it? I'm still not convinced, mainly because both parties have a lot to lose.

It isn't clear that the President has the leverage for option #1; the GOP is divided over option #2, and Republicans are in no mood to accept the Democratic idea for more taxes and/or more spending on #3.

Republicans will probably also spend part of this week lobbing shots at each other over option #2, the shutdown over the Obama health law, which has strong backers and strong critics inside the GOP.

Meanwhile, President Obama is likely to lob a few verbal grenades at Republicans on Tuesday, as Mr. Obama will travel to Tennessee this week to make another speech about his plans to spur economic growth - but it is not clear if that will mean more details about what he wants to achieve.

Mr. Obama is also expected to go to Capitol Hill to meet with Congressional Democrats, giving him another chance to reinforce the message of his economic speeches - and gig Republicans in the process.

None of it is a menu for getting much done.

And really, that's fine with a lot of voters.

Enjoy your August recess, Congress - most of America wouldn't mind having five weeks off either.

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