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Next steps as Congress works through budget mess

WASHINGTON — As Congress confronts a potential federal shutdown Tuesday and a need by Oct. 17 to extend the government’s ability to borrow money, what to watch for.

∎ The Senate: Most senators left town after the Democratic-controlled Senate approved a bill Friday preventing a government shutdown on Tuesday. It would provide money through Nov. 15. The Senate’s next session was scheduled for 2 p.m. EDT Monday — 10 hours before a shutdown would begin.

∎ The House: The Republican-led House approved an initial bill on Sept. 20 preventing a shutdown, with money running through Dec. 15. It scheduled a Saturday session and advised lawmakers they will likely meet Sunday, too.

∎ The next move: The ball is in the House’s court — meaning Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other House leaders have big decisions ahead. They will start at noon Saturday, when House Republicans meet privately and see if they can unite behind a plan.

—The Senate’s shutdown bill: It’s possible but unlikely that the House would just accept the Senate bill. Since the Senate dropped House-passed language blocking money for President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Senate measure lacks provisions that might attract conservative votes. Besides, every Senate Republican present Friday voted against it.

—Boehner’s other options: A more likely scenario might be amending the Senate-passed shutdown bill with something conservatives want that the Senate might grudgingly accept. Or with a provision that, should the Senate reject it, Republicans think might leave voters blaming Senate Democrats for any shutdown. House Republicans have spoken about abolishing a medical device tax that helps finance Obamacare programs, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has rejected that.

The House could send the Senate a bill avoiding a shutdown for a week or so to provide more time to find a solution. But it remains unclear where Boehner would find votes for that.

—The debt limit: House GOP leaders were writing a bill extending the government’s ability to borrow money past the 2014 congressional elections. They’ve crammed it with provisions designed to attract Republican votes, including a one-year delay on Obamacare and an accelerated schedule for votes on tax reform legislation. Even so, Boehner lacks the needed votes and his path on this bill remains a mystery.

—Talks among bipartisan congressional leaders: No talks are known to be scheduled.

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