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DC's autumn chill means heated political battles

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call| Getty Images
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.

Welcome to fall in Washington where chances of a government shutdown rise by the day.

The Senate this week will take up the continuing resolution (CR) funding the government passed by the House last week. Democrats are expected to strip out language defunding Obamacare and send the measure back to the House this week in time for final passage to avoid a shutdown on Oct. 1.

But there is no guarantee it will be anywhere near that easy.

Republicans could filibuster efforts by Democrats to take out the Obamacare language, though a new CNBC survey suggests there is little appetite, even among many Republicans, for forcing a shutdown or debt default over the health care law.

Even if the GOP goes along with stripping the health care provision, Democrats in the Senate unhappy with spending levels approved by the House could add more money and send the bill back to the lower chamber. This would leave House Republicans little choice but to cut the increased spending and ping-pong the bill back to the Senate.

Meanwhile, many House Democrats, including Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), are adamant about opposing any CR that does not cancel the so-called sequester spending cuts. Some Republicans also want to cancel the sequester but probably not enough to cobble together a majority.

House Speaker John Boehner may be able to put together a majority including many Democrats for a government funding bill that does not increase spending or cancel the sequester or defund Obamacare. But it's not going to be easy and could come after a shutdown, not before.

And getting passed the shutdown just means getting to the debt ceiling, which must be raised by mid-October at the latest. There is a chance a bill to keep the government open a few months will also punt the debt ceiling back into December. This would likely do nothing to create a longer-term solution and only guarantee that Washington fights the same high-stakes battle during the holiday season, a rerun of the 2012-2013 fiscal cliff fight.

(Read more Guess who in DC is confusing the markets now?)

And that fight would occur around the time of confirmation hearings for a new Fed chair and probably as the central bank finally begins pulling back on stimulus.

ALSO THIS WEEK – People close to the process tell DCMI not to expect an announcement from the White House on a proposed successor to outgoing Fed Chair Ben Bernanke this week. President Obama is still likely to pick current Vice Chair Janet Yellen but its already a busy week for the president, who is in New York for the UN General Assembly on Monday and Tuesday.

Speaking of Yellen, a big piece in the Wall Street Journal on Monday described her not as a soft-spoken, consensus builder – the conventional view of her – but as a driven taskmaster with a very different style than the genial Bernanke. And in POLITICO over the weekend, I reported on how Yellen should face a fairly easy confirmation process but then her real problems will begin.


— By Ben White, POLITICO's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. White also authors the daily tip sheet POLITICO Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney] Follow him onTwitter @morningmoneyben.

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