The end of the federal
fiscal year on Sept. 30 always entails a messy political battle of some kind in Congress.
This year, it's pitting House Republicans against House Republicans.
Because Congress once again has failed to do its work by passing a budget on time, lawmakers must pass a series of continuing resolutions that fund the government on a temporary basis.
The Tea Party-movement-influenced wing of the House GOP favors passing the continuing resolutions, but cutting any funds in those bills that would go toward paying for the Affordable Care Act -- "Obamacare." About two dozen House Republicans already have come out in favor of this scheme.
But since neither President Barack Obama nor Senate Democrats would go along with this, House Republicans risk shutting down all or parts of the government.
The House Republicans' leadership, which bears no love for Obamacare, thinks this is a terrible idea. National polls and the GOP's internal polling show that the public would generally blame Republicans for the shutdown and likely take it out on the party in the next election. GOP shutdown tactics during the Clinton era helped short-circuit the so-called Gingrich Revolution in the 1990s.
The beleaguered Republicans who lead the House -- Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and whip Kevin McCarthy -- prefer to wait until month's end, when Congress must vote to raise the debt ceiling so the government can continue borrowing.
Failure to raise the debt limit means the government will begin defaulting on its debts, with dire and unpredictable consequences. Boehner has pledged not to let the government default. But he wants to tie the increase in the debt ceiling to tax reform, which would likely entail cuts in entitlements -- anathema to most Democrats.
Obama and Senate Democratic leaders say they will not negotiate over the debt limit and have begun making the argument that failing to raise it is unconstitutional and that Congress' permission might not even be necessary. That could open the way to a court challenge.
Thus, at a sensitive time in the nation's economic recovery, the administration could face "economic chaos," the term used this week by President Obama.
Younger House Republicans believe Obama would back down. However, faced with growing charges that his leadership in a presidency with three years to go is weak and uncertain, the president almost dare not.
Then there are those polls showing that Republicans would take the blame for any disruption. All that tough, heated talk to the Tea Party faithful back home may come back to haunt Republican rebels.