Congress is poised to fund the government for six weeks to give President Barack Obama and lawmakers more time to work out some $1 trillion of unfinished agency budgets for the fiscal year already days old.
On Tuesday, the House plans to vote on the emergency spending bill and send it to Obama to beat a midnight deadline for a government shutdown.
The vote gives lawmakers additional time for what is sure to be an onerous task: passing the 12 annual spending bills laying out the day-to-day operating budgets for Cabinet agencies and departments. Republicans in charge of the House and Democrats controlling the Senate as well as Obama are in agreement on an overall $1 trillion-plus budget for the government, but there's plenty of disagreement over which programs should be increased and which should be cut the deepest.
At the same time, House Republicans are seeking to use the bills to criticize Obama policies on health care and financial services, environmental regulations and labor rules. They also are waging uphill battles for conservative social policies like eliminating federal aid for family planning and barring health care plans for federal workers from covering abortions.
Tuesday's stopgap funding bill sets a Nov. 18 deadline to wrap up the unfinished spending bills, which are likely to be bundled together to save time. But it's by no means a sure thing that a bitterly divided Congress and the White House will be able to do so.
For starters, GOP leaders enter the battle at a disadvantage since they're mostly outgunned by the power of the presidency. And they'll also need support from Democrats to counter opposition from about 50 tea party Republicans who have signaled they'll oppose the spending legislation required to implement this summer's budget agreement.
"As far as the spending situation is concerned, many of us feel that we could have done better," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "But things are what they are in Washington. Republicans control the House, but the Democrats and those of a different opinion control the Senate and the White House."
The end result is likely to be a reprise of this spring's omnibus spending bill, in which House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was forced to drop numerous policy "riders" in late-stage talks with Obama and make concessions to Democrats on spending priorities as well. GOP leaders may not be in a rush to seal such an agreement _ especially since Congress is scheduled to work in December anyway on legislation approved by a budget "supercommittee" that's likely to focus on benefit programs like farm subsidies.
Tuesday's vote also closes out a battle over whether a portion of urgently needed relief for victims of Hurricane Irene and other natural disasters should have been offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget. Lawmakers sidestepped the controversy by dropping $1 billion in disaster aid and accompanying cuts to a loan guarantee program to help automakers retool factories to meet new fuel economy standards.
In the end, the government's main disaster aid account has been awarded $2.7 billion through an earlier emergency measure, which the administration says is enough to take care of disaster needs over the next few weeks. Several billion dollars more is on the way as part of a final agreement.