WASHINGTON — As the end of the fiscal year looms near, there is a growing sense of pessimism in Washington that a government shutdown may occur.

Leaders in Congress are seeking a budget deal to fund government operations through late 2016, with a focus on developing a continuing resolution (CR) that will keep the government running until December. But there are worries Congress may not have any deal done when the current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30expires on Oct. 1.

With a few daysdozen hours left before a possible government shutdown, Senate lawmakers spent Thursday Sept. 24 advancinged plans for a straightforward continuing resolution that would extend federal spending at fiscal 2016 levels until Dec. 11, hopefully giving lawmakerspolitical leaders a few more weeks to reach a long-term budget deal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., repeatedly has promised to avoid a shutdown, even in the face of what he considers stonewalling by Senate Democrats.

The latest proposed budget solution attempt came after those Democrats halted an effort to strip away funding for Planned Parenthood operations from another budget-extension measure, an approach solution preferred by most House and Senate Republicans.

Conservative House members have vowed to strip away that funding at any cost. But Senate leaders are hopeful that, with the controversial proposal's defeat, House lawmakers will relent and come together on the simpler budget plan.

They'll know whether that's the case by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, the end of the fiscal year.

The "clean" $1.02 trillion continuing resolution would maintain defense spending at this fiscal year's levels and offer a slight increase in temporary war funding, avoiding keeping interruptions in federal programs from being interrupted.

If an agreement isn't reached, about half of the Defense Department's 720,000 civilian employees and around 15,000 Veterans Affairs Department staffers would face immediate furloughs, and a series of military and veterans programs would be shuttered or delayed until a new budget deal could be reached.

Defense officials and lawmakers alike have called that scenario a self-inflicted wound and an unforgivable disaster.

Shutdown Chances

Consensus has shifted quickly about the likelihood of potential for a shutdown. In recent months, consensus grew has grown that a bout the possibility of a yearlong continuing resolution might pass, with but insiders seeminglyed confident that a shutdown would be easily avoided.

However, that confidence has waned since Congress returned from recess at the start of September.

"A couple of months ago, I would have said there is no way they are going to shut down, and boy, did I get proved wrong," said Bob Hale, who served as Pentagon Comptroller from 2009 to 2014 See related op-ed on page XXX. "I'm worried. I think there is unfortunately a significant chance that there will be a shutdown."

Hale sees the situation as a mirror image of what happened in 2013. Then, Congress was focused on defunding President Obama's signature Affordable Care Act; sub in Planned Parenthood for the ACA, Hale says, and there really isn't much difference.

"The Planned Parenthood issue is extremely divisive," Hale noted. "It will come down to whether the speaker of the House is willing to put a clean resolution on the floor."

That situation only became more cloudy Friday with the unexpected announcement that House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio is would be stepping down from office at the end of October. It was unclear at press time whether such a move increases or decreases the chances of a shutdown, but there are signs of optimism from political observers.

Andrew Hunter, a former Pentagon official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tweeted: out that "This doesn't bode well for any kind of a deal on the budget. Maybe Boehner can pass a clean CR with Dem help."

Michael Horowitz, associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, said he believes the move makes a shutdown "slightly less likely."

But, Horowitz warned, more details may still emerge — in particular whether Boehner stepping down was part of an internal GOP agreement to keep the government open in exchange for his resignation. Boehner has faced increasing pressure from inside his caucus over the Planned Parenthood issue.

Mackenzie Eaglen of the conservative American Enterprise Institute believes the resignation may avoid a shutdown in the short term, but sets up a messier situation down the line.

"Boehner announcing his resignation a month out takes the wind out of the sails for those spoiling for a big fight," she said. "The problem is there's no plan for the next time, and that will be a brand new speaker, and the Freedom Caucus will feel empowered and emboldened at that time to take a big stand on Planned Parenthood and probably other issues."

"I actually think [the chances of a shutdown] are much lower now, at least a shutdown next week. But the odds increase dramatically after this CR expires," she added. "I see no good news coming out of Boehner's resignation. I only see a messy, gridlocked Congress ahead."

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is taking the risk of a shutdown seriously, sending out a letter to personnel Friday with providing basic guidance on what will happen under a shutdown.

Continuing Chaos

During the two-week shutdown in 2013 — caused by similar political gridlock — military paychecks were protected thanks to special last-minute legislation approved by Congress. But civilian defense employee pay was disrupted, and numerous contractors were sidelined due to funding shortages.

Many recreation and support services were shuttered, although child care and medical offices remained open.

At the VA, hospitals and clinics remained open but saw some administrative staffing shortages. Several information and assistance hotlines were temporarily closed. Benefits checks continued, but officials warned some could have been slowed or stopped if the shutdown had lasted longer.

"It's disruptive, it hurts morale, it does all sorts of bad things," Hale said of a government shutdown. "The morale of DoD civilians has plummeted since 2010, and it will only get worse."

The effects impacts of a shutdown go beyond the obvious, Hale said. As an example, the last shutdown forced people who were attending out-of-town courses to return back to their homes, with travel coming at government expense; when the shutdown ended 16 days later, the government then paid had to pay for them those individuals to travel back to their schools.

"If we were to reach (a shutdown), it would have a significant impact on this building and on operations going forward," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Tuesday. "And it's something that we feel very strongly needs to be avoided."

Republicans and Democrats have sparred for months over long-term budget plans, with no compromise in sight.

McConnell has predicted that the budget extension will give both sides time to work out a compromise on the caps, not only for 2016 but for years to come.

The GOP-controlled House already has passed a series of fiscal 2016 appropriations budget bills that would get around spending caps on DoD by adding to plussing up overseas contingency funds. Democrats have vowed to block those plans, arguing that it's irresponsible not to lift spending caps for all federal departments.

Before that can happen, however, both the House and Senate must reach agreement on a budget reprieve for just a few more weeks. Votes on the continuing resolution are scheduled for early next week.

In comparison to a shutdown, a CR looks like a welcome sight to Hale.

"A CR, for DoD, it is not too disruptive for the first couple of months," Halte said. "DoD has learned to hold its financial breath for a couple of months, because they're so used to CRs."

But if it goes beyond the calendar year, Hale warned, you will start to see major disruptions, particularly if Congress decides to pass a yearlong CR.

"DoD has never gone beyond six months on a CR. If it were to go for a year, a truly clean CR, spend in '16 at the same rates as '15, that would be a nightmare," Hale said.

Top Pentagon officials have begun sounding the alarm over a long-term CR. At the Air Force Association conference in mid-September, service leaders spent significant time outlining laying out the potential effects impacts of a CR, which could include having to renegotiate the contract for the KC-46 tanker and a halt on development for the F-35 joint strike fighter program.

Frank Kendall, the head of Pentagon acquisition, has described a full-year CR as a "devastating thing" for the department.

Email: lshane@militarytimes.com | amehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @LeoShane | @AaronMehta

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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