House, Senate divided over 2014 spending levels

With both parties unwilling to do the leg work needed in Congress to complete work on time for all twelve spending bills for the next fiscal year, the battle lines are already being drawn - between parties and inside parties - over a temporary budget plan to keep the government running after September 30.

While Democrats are pressing for more spending and a plan that does away with automatic budget cuts, Republicans are fighting over both spending levels and a drive to block money for the Obama health reform law.

“To my Republican colleagues, I would just say this: if we’re not going to draw a line in the sand on ObamaCare, we have no lines in the sand," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who wants to block funding for the health law and dare Democrats to a battle that could force a government shutdown.

Rubio and a group of other GOP Senators sent this letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

We view the Obama Administration's recent decision to delay ObamaCare's employer mandate and eligibility verification for the individual exchanges as further proof the law is a failure that will inevitably hurt businesses, American families, and the economy.

: In light of this admission, we believe the only way to avert disaster is to fully repeal ObamaCare and start over with a more sensible, practical approach to reforming our healthcare system.

However, if Democrats will not agree with Republicans that ObamaCare must be repealed, perhaps they can at least agree with the president that the law cannot be implemented as written. If the administration will not enforce the law as written, then the American people should not be forced to fund it.

This is a matter not only of fiscal prudence, but of fundamental fairness as well. The president cannot seriously expect to waive ObamaCare's onerous mandates on large businesses, while simultaneously forcing individuals and families to pay to implement an individual mandate the public has opposed since before the law was even passed.

For these reasons, we will not support any continuing resolution or appropriations legislation that funds further implementation or enforcement of ObamaCare.

Sincerely,

Sens. Lee, Rubio, Cruz, Risch, Paul, Inhofe, Vitter, Thune, Chiesa, Enzi, Fischer, and Grassley.

But Rubio's group is nowhere near a majority within the GOP, as a number of rank and file Republicans think picking a fight on the Obama health law is a losing proposition when it comes to a possible government shutdown.

For example, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) told reporters he thought it was one of the "dumbest ideas" he's heard about in a budget showdown.

As for GOP leaders, so far they're staying out of the fight publicly over what should be in a stop gap budget known as the Continuing Resolution.

"We not made any decisions about how we're going to deal with the CR," Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Thursday.

Translated - there might be a protest from Republicans about blocking money for the Obama health law, but it seems unlikely that the GOP leadership is going to get on board with that fight at this point.

$91 billion difference

Whether or not Republicans decide to pick a fight over funding for the Obama health law, the two parties are already far apart on funding for the 2014 budget.

Senate Democrats are at $1.058 trillion in funding (with no sequester), while House Republicans are at $967 billion (with the sequester still in place).

That's a difference of $91 billion.

Complicating matters is that neither party has really tried to finish the dozen spending bills that fund the operations of the federal government.

With an extended summer break starting on August 2, the House has only approved four of the dozen spending bills for the 2014 Fiscal Year; the Senate has not passed one of those bills.

The House and Senate are both out on Friday, and will likely only work four days next week before leaving until the week after Labor Day.

And with only two work weeks in September, it means a stop-gap budget bill will be needed to keep the government running after October 1.

Some lawmakers argue the answer should be to stay and work in Washington, and scrap what's known as the August Recess for Congress.

"Mr. Speaker I really believe we ought to be in session six days a week, starting at 8 am, earlier if it was up to me, and ending around 7 pm. Six days a week!" said Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA).

But the August break is pretty sacred around here - and so, lawmakers will be going home by late next week, not returning until September 9.

And given that the week of September 23 is also an off week, that doesn't leave much time to hammer out a deal on a plan to keep the government running.

The end of the fiscal year on September 30 is over two months away. But for the Congress, it seems like it's just around the corner, as lawmakers will once again not finish their budget work on time.