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5 strange things about government shutdown politics

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
October 3, 2013 -- Updated 1758 GMT (0158 HKT)

(CNN) -- Battles over money never seem to end in Washington. And the consequences are often unpleasant when lawmakers can't agree to iron them out.

Well, here we go again.

This time, it's about approving the funds needed to run the federal government.

You can expect to see plenty of twists and turns as the deadline approaches:

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Can lawmakers avoid shutdown?

1. To meet or not to meet, that is the question.

Maybe or maybe not, that is the answer.

As the clock counts down to a possible shutdown, some wonder if President Barack Obama might meet with legislators to pitch a plan of salvation. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday it is likely. At the same time, the president also seemed to be booked solid with meetings and speeches on Tuesday at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The office of Republican House Speaker John Boehner said it went back and forth with the president's office over a possible meeting, but it never worked out due to scheduling difficulties.

2. Battle over Obamacare.

Politicians have often used financial impasses to try to force concessions from the other side. Financing medical care is a big sticking point in the current money squabbling, as it was when both parties clashed during the Clinton administration over Medicare. But this time, it's Obamacare.

Disagreements grew so heated in the Clinton years that the government did shut down. It may be headed there again.

Republicans in the House, where they have a majority, passed a measure to keep funding the government but tacked on stipulations that would "defund" the Affordable Care Act, thus effectively killing Obamacare. This has led to some writhing in the Senate, where Republicans are in the minority. Democrats want to take those stipulations out, and Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, has threatened a filibuster to try to stop them. Democrats could call for a special vote, a cloture, to prevent the filibuster, and Cruz would need the support of his fellow Republicans to try to stop them. But he has irritated many of his colleagues, who weren't too thrilled with the House's jousting for Obamacare in the first place.

If the language removing funding for Obamacare were to remain in the bill to raise the debt ceiling, Obama would surely veto it, and a shutdown could ensue.

3. Tea posturing.

Some Republicans seemed uncomfortable with the attack on Obamacare but also felt a need to use the funding debate to take a stand against it, in order to please their most conservative colleagues. Boehner and fellow GOP leaders sought a compromise that would have allowed a symbolic vote on the defunding provision that the Senate would then strip out, so lawmakers could focus on the funding the government.

But those conservative colleagues made Boehner agree to a tougher version that made overall government funding contingent on eliminating money for Obamacare. Moderate Republicans, especially in the Senate, shook their heads and said forget it, but now some may have to fear a tea party backlash in the 2014 primaries.

4. Repeated cliffhangers.

The current financial tensions basically started in April 2011, five months after Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives, and the first major fiscal fight came to a head. And the threat of a shutdown over government spending was issued. "There's no question that a shutdown is coming, whether we do it today or whether we do it in 20 years," said then-Rep. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican. A last-minute deal put the issue off for five months, when the same tensions came to a head again. And again and again.

Voices across the political spectrum warn against a shutdown, including Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican strategist Karl Rove. "Even the defund strategy's authors say they don't want a government shutdown. But their approach means we'll get one," Rove argued in an op-ed last week in The Wall Street Journal.

5. It ain't over yet -- not by a long shot.

A more probable scenario is a last-minute compromise on a short-term spending plan to fund the government when the current fiscal year ends September 30. But after that, the debate would shift to broader deficit reduction issues tied to the need to raise the federal debt ceiling sometime in October.

CNN's Leigh Ann Caldwell and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

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