Pentagon & Congress

Government shutdown looms as lawmakers spar over budget plan

A 10-week budget extension to keep federal programs running through the November elections stalled in the Senate on Tuesday, raising the prospect of a government shutdown at the end of the week.

The continuing resolution would have not only provided funding through Dec. 9 but also would have finalized more than $180 billion in Veterans Affairs and military construction money for all of fiscal 2017. Instead, it was sidelined over a fight between Republican and Democratic leaders over how to provide emergency funding for the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

If a deal is not reached by midnight on Sept. 30, most federal programs would not have money to continue, although government workers with "essential" job functions would be required to continue working without pay. That includes service members and a host of key military support posts held by civilians.

During the last extended government shutdown, in October 2013, nearly 800,000 federal employees were furloughed and some veterans benefits checks were threatened.

Since then, Congress has passed a series of bills to keep most VA programs running uninterrupted even in the event of a partial shutdown. So far, neither defense nor VA officials have sent out notices to employees this month warning of the effects of another shutdown.

After the failed vote on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said officials will continue working on the issue through the week.

He accused Democrats of not being serious about "supporting veterans and tackling Zika and flood relief and the heroin prescription opioid crisis," and using the funding deadline as a pre-election political distraction.

But leaders from both parties still appeared optimistic that a deal can be reached in the next three days. Whether that plan also includes long-term funding for veterans programs and military construction remains unclear.

If Senate negotiators reach a deal, they’ll need to get the plan approved by the House before the weekend to avoid a shutdown. Both chambers are scheduled to behind an extended pre-election break next Monday, returning to Capitol Hill on Nov. 14.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

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