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Fiscal Fight Looming Over August Recess

The Morning LinePressure to reach an agreement on how to fund the U.S. government lingers while Congress prepares to go on a month-long recess next week.

Congress is a week away from a month-long summer recess, and appears to be on a collision course for a September spending showdown.

Lawmakers will have little time left to deal with the issue of funding the government upon their return, and tension is escalating while President Barack Obama goes after Republicans as promoters of gridlock in a series of campaign-style speeches.

The Washington Post’s Zachary Goldfarb and Paul Kane looked at the Obama administration’s strategy and noted that the White House is prepared to aggressively push back on attempts by congressional Republicans to make deeper cuts to domestic programs than were made through the sequester earlier this year.

They also write that the president could demand that Congress undo the automatic, across-the-board spending reductions enacted in the spring:

White House officials also are discussing a potential strategy to try to stop the sequestration cuts from continuing, the lawmakers and Democrats said. Under this scenario, the president might refuse to sign a new funding measure that did not roll back the sequester. No decision has been made.

But some of Obama’s top economic advisers fear that they may not be able to stop what they consider damaging cuts without a sharper confrontation, the sources said. Other advisers are urging a more cautious course, saying it would be better for Obama to seek a more targeted agreement that would increase funding for a smaller set of priorities.

Obama would still prefer to replace all the domestic and defense cuts with a long-term budget deal and avoid talk of a shutdown, according to the people familiar with the discussions. But some White House officials consider the Sept. 30 date the last chance to cancel a portion of the sequestration cuts before the 2014 midterm elections.

The Post duo also notes that White House officials “are all but resigned to any potential budget agreement lasting just a year or two — not the long-term fiscal pact they have sought.” That comes as voters are telling pollsters about their deep dissatisfaction with Washington and the lack of getting much accomplished on Capitol Hill.

The task of reaching an agreement on funding the government could be complicated by GOP divisions over funding of the president’s health care overhaul. A group of Republican lawmakers want to cut off money for the program as part of any spending deal, but others in the party are wary of the potential public backlash of a government shutdown.

Politico’s Manu Raju and Jake Sherman explain:

The debate is happening behind closed doors and over Senate lunches, as well as during a frank meeting Wednesday with House leaders in Speaker John Boehner’s suite where fresh concerns were aired about the party’s strategy. On Thursday, the dispute began to spill into public view, most notably when three Senate Republicans — including Minority Whip John Cornyn — withdrew their signatures from a conservative letter demanding defunding Obamacare as a condition for supporting the government funding measure.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) called the push to defund the law through the continuing resolution the “dumbest idea” he had ever heard.

“Defunding the Affordable Care Act is not achievable by shutting down the federal government,” Burr said. “At some point, you’re going to open the federal government back up, and Barack Obama is going to be president.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) have circulated letters in the Senate and House to push their colleagues to unite behind the anti-Obamacare effort. The proponents of the push argue that if the government shuts down over Obamacare, it will be the president’s fault — not theirs.

The president took aim at the tactics of Republicans during a visit to Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday, the latest stop in an effort to promote his economic principles.

“Shutting down the government just because I’m for keeping it open, that’s not an economic plan,” he said. “Threatening that you won’t pay the bills in this country when we’ve already racked up those bills, that’s not an economic plan. That’s just being a deadbeat.”

The president’s campaign spinoff, Organizing for Action, refashioned clips of one of his speeches for a new 60-second cable television ad pushing his ideas.

With Congress back home for almost the entire month of August and first week of September, little dealmaking is expected on any of the major issues Washington is grappling with. And with the spending debate expected to be the immediate focus for lawmakers when they get back to town, it could mean even further delay for one of the president’s top second-term priorities: comprehensive immigration reform.

Editor’s note: For the rest of the summer, the Morning Line will only publish once a week, on Mondays. Visit our home page for news and show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


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Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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