Is a Government Shutdown Ahead?
Will there be a government shutdown on Oct. 1? Yes, it's a ways off, but it's a date you should keep in mind as the debate over oil drilling continues on Capitol Hill.
Current law includes a ban on opening more offshore territory to oil and gas exploration, and that ban expires Sept. 30. Typically, Congress renews the ban each year on the annual Interior appropriations bill. But no one expects an Interior spending measure for fiscal 2009 to be signed into law this year. Instead, the current betting is that government spending through at least the beginning of next year will be covered by a "continuing resolution" that the House and Senate will pass and Bush will sign before Congress leaves town for the year, which is currently scheduled to happen Sept. 26.
So if supporters of the offshore drilling ban want it to continue, they'll have to attach it to the CR. And Republicans won't allow that to happen without a fight.
"The moratorium on offshore drilling expires on Sept. 30th," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said today. "What we're saying is that we ought to allow it to expire, and if Democrats want to reinstitute the ban, they'll do so at their own peril."
But how far will Republicans go? If a CR isn't signed into law by Sept. 30, the federal government will shut down on Oct. 1, the first day of the next fiscal year. Will the GOP risk such a move over the drilling ban? Boehner wouldn't quite bite on that question, saying: "I think it's an important issue and we'll have a lot more to say about it in September."
Just about anyone over the age of 12 likely remembers the last time the federal government closed for business in late 2005 and the beginning of 2006. President Clinton faced off with congressional Republicans over spending levels and legislative priorities in a host of appropriations bills. After much angst and trading of blame, Republicans essentially blinked, as the majority of the public blamed them rather than Clinton for images of shuttered offices and idle workers.
The question for Republicans in 2008 is whether the politics of a potential shutdown have shifted in their favor. Polls do show that a majority of the public wants more land opened to oil drilling, and the GOP may be gaining traction by blaming Democrats for blocking it. But at the same time, a showdown over the CR won't just be a referendum on whether to drill offshore. It will also be a debate Democrats will frame as about whether Republicans are willing to cut off government services for the elderly, children, puppies and any other innocent bystanders you can think of.
So will Republicans risk facing that charge to force a change in drilling policy? And would President Bush back them up by refusing to sign a CR that includes a drilling ban? We're exactly two months from knowing the definitive answers to those questions. Stay tuned, and just to be safe, start hoarding candles and canned goods.
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