Budget Dispute May Cause Government Shutdown, White House Warns

  • Obama administration wants automatic budget cuts stopped
  • Congress faces Sept. 30 deadline to fund U.S. government

National Park Service park ranger Richard Trott removes a closed sign at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013.

The White House warned Tuesday against a shutdown of the U.S. government, as President Barack Obama’s spokesman insisted he would not sign a fiscal 2016 budget that locks in automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.

The government’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and without a new spending plan in place, a lapse in funding would have a “negative impact on our economy” and cause “instability” in financial markets, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters. He said Republicans wouldn’t be able to extend spending caps into 2016 and called on them to negotiate.

“It’s not at all clear to me that there is enough support in the United States Congress to pass a budget that would lock in sequester spending,” Earnest said. “There’s good reason for that.”

The government shut down in October 2013 for 15 days after Republicans led by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, now a presidential candidate, balked at providing money to enact the Affordable Care Act. Battered by negative publicity as national parks closed and hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors were furloughed, Republicans relented and sent Obama legislation that re-opened the government and allowed the health-care law known as Obamacare to advance.

Planned Parenthood

This year, Cruz and other Republicans have threatened to hold up a budget unless it cuts off federal support for Planned Parenthood, the women’s health service. An antiabortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, has released hidden-camera videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing reimbursement for donating aborted fetal tissue to researchers, inflaming conservatives who have accused the group of selling body parts.

Obama has threatened to veto all of the 2016 spending bills the House and Senate have produced so far.

Lawmakers also face a busy September schedule including a vote on the nuclear accord with Iran and an address by Pope Francis that allows little time for difficult budget negotiations. That has raised speculation that Congress will pass a short-term law called a continuing resolution to keep the government running until a broader deal can be struck later in the year.

Earnest wouldn’t predict how Congress would handle the budget, but didn’t rule out the president signing a short-term bill, even if it temporarily maintains spending at sequester levels.

“Obviously, there’s a difference between a temporary bill that would be put into place to allow Congress to get the additional time that’s necessary to pass a longer-term budget,” Earnest said. “I would draw a distinction between those two things without speculating about what path Congress will take.”

Waiting to pass a full-year budget may also allow congressional leaders to incorporate other politically sensitive issues into the legislation, including an increase of the nation’s debt limit and money for highway projects.