Gridlock: Congress Struggles to Pass Government Funding Bill

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How gridlocked has Congress become? With only days left before lawmakers leave Capitol Hill to focus on keeping their jobs in Congress, they have yet to complete their most basic job responsibility: funding the government.

Not a single appropriations bill has passed Congress this year, leaving the government at risk of shutting down later this week. It won't happen, but it's another telling sign of the bipartisan stalemate in the nation's capital.

Democrats, of course, blame Republicans for obstructing their plans and blindly blocking every proposal. Republicans, in turn, blame Democrats for ignoring their suggestions and stubbornly trying to jam every proposal down their throats.

Since lawmakers now are determined to get out of town for some last-ditch campaigning, the only solution to keep the government running once the fiscal year ends on Thursday is to pass a stop-gap funding bill. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to proceed to debate on the bill, which would keep the government funded at 2010 levels through early December.

Democrats appear to have blown off a White House wish list for possible additions to the funding bill, while Republicans do not sound ready to block the bill, so it seems likely to pass the Senate sometime Wednesday, paving the way for Congress to adjourn until after the November election.

"This is not the first time that Congress has resorted to stop-gap measures to keep the government running," Sarah Binder, an expert on Congress at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told ABC News. "But the situation seems particularly dire this year, as Congress failed to pass a budget and not a single appropriations bill was debated on the Senate floor.

"Democrats have been reluctant to make tough spending choices amidst a recession," Binder said, "while Republicans have often been unwilling to play a constructive legislative role. Such partisan and ideological polarization has been a recipe for stalemate for Congress's ability to complete its most basic job." Bush Tax Cuts, Avoiding Pay Cut for Medicare Doctors on To Do List

But it's not just that Congress so far has failed to fulfill its most basic duty. It also has punted a slew of other pressing issues until the lame-duck session after Election Day.

On the ever-expanding to-do list: an extension of the Bush tax cuts that expire on Jan. 1; the annual defense authorization bill that includes a repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy; an immigration measure known as the Dream Act; an extension of unemployment insurance benefits that expire on Nov. 30; a freeze on a scheduled 23 percent cut to doctors' Medicare reimbursements set for Dec. 1; and a bill to pressure China to raise the value of its currency.

Democrats Could Lose Votes Before Lame Duck Session

In addition, the partisan deadlock in the Senate looks likely to worsen in November.

The winners of special elections in Illinois, Delaware and West Virginia all are slated to start their new Senate terms just after the Nov. 2 election, two months before the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3. All three seats currently are held by Democrats: Roland Burris in Illinois, Ted Kaufman in Delaware, and Carte Goodwin in West Virginia.

At least two of those races are tight. The Illinois race between Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk is a dead heat, while Republican John Raese is gaining ground on Democrat Joe Manchin in West Virginia. That raises the realistic possibility that the Democrats' 59-seat majority in the Senate could shrink by one, if not two, during the lame-duck session.

Ahead of the election, both sides are seizing on the stalemate in Congress as evidence that the opposing party has failed.

Democrats highlight that the current Congress has passed major pieces of legislation including health care reform, the economic stimulus package and the Wall Street regulatory overhaul -- all in the face of steadfast GOP opposition.

"This has been one of the most productive sessions of Congress despite efforts by Republicans to obstruct and delay nearly everything we have tried to do," said Regan Lachapelle, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "We are continuing our efforts to create jobs and strengthen the economy, and we will consider appropriations legislation before the end of the year."

In response, Republicans argue that Democrats are due for a loss at the polls this fall.

"Funding the government is one of the most basic responsibilities of any Congress, and the Democrat super-majority hasn't passed a single appropriations bill," a GOP aide told ABC News. "In the real world, anyone would be fired from their job for neglecting their responsibilities like that. Oh wait, Democrats will meet the real world on Nov. 2."