WASHINGTON -- One crisis averted, on to the next. The day after Congress managed to avert a government shutdown -- again -- Republicans and Democrats stared ahead yesterday at major fights over spending that underscore a deep divide that's sure to define the national elections.
Monday night, lawmakers had postponed their dispute over whether billions for disaster aid must be paid for with cuts elsewhere in the budget, finessing a pact to keep the government operating. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would get $2.65 billion in disaster relief assistance in a one-week bill, $1 billion less than approved by tea party GOPers.
But tea party-driven Republicans are still insisting on significant spending cuts this fall, with some arguing that a hard-fought congressional agreement this summer to fund the government at $1.043 trillion in 2012 was too generous. Democrats, many of whom complained of too many concessions and reductions in this year's showdowns, are furiously trying to protect government programs.
The next skirmish will be over how and where to spend the new year's budget, with a Nov. 18 deadline for that legislation. But the next really big deal is the special 12-member bipartisan supercommittee and whether it can come up with a plan to slash $1.5 trillion over 10 years by Nov. 23 -- the day before Thanksgiving.
These fights will unfold against the backdrop of a feeble economy that President Barack Obama is desperate to jump-start as he pushes for a second term, and an exasperated electorate that looks at Washington and dislikes what it sees.
Lawmakers also will be under pressure from political factions demanding that they stand firm for party beliefs.
The disaster aid dispute that threatened to partially shut down the government this weekend was resolved relatively quickly after a standoff between Democrats and Republicans. The fight, however, was an unpleasant reminder to most Americans of the last-minute maneuvering in April to avert a shutdown and the August showdown over raising the nation's borrowing authority that left financial markets unnerved.
Chris Krueger of the brokerage firm MF Global said, "Both sides are convinced this continued threat of government shutdown benefits no incumbents."
The House, on recess this week, probably will back the one-week bill by voice vote Thursday and vote separately next week to keep the government running through Nov. 18.