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Congress looking at another partial shutdown? Place your bets now

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 (AP)

Congress returns to session in early September, immediately after the National Football League kicks off its first weekend of play.

Handicappers regard the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts to be the NFL's crème-de-la-crème. Bookmakers list those seven teams as favorites to win the Super Bowl.

But, this is the "Any Given Sunday" NFL. Lurking nearby are the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals. All have a legitimate shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy come February. The sound money is on teams like the Seahawks, Patriots and Packers. But one can never dismiss the possibility that the Bengals, Steelers or Eagles could win it all.

There are parallels between Congress and those pigskin pontifications.

The first (and perhaps only) order of business for Congress in September is approving a comprehensive spending bill to fund the government and avoid another shutdown by Oct. 1, the start of Washington's fiscal year. Last fall's partial shutdown padlocked the federal government for more than two weeks. The debacle waylaid Republicans, many of whom linked keeping the government open to defunding ObamaCare. Congressional Democrats and President Obama summarily dismissed that option, triggering the impasse. The episode was so painful that few political observers are talking about a repeat this fall. In short, the odds favor lawmakers funding the government and sidestepping a shutdown -- especially with the midterm elections less than three months off. The possibility of no shutdown aligns with the chances of the Packers, Seahawks or 49ers winning the title. That's a safe wager.

But picking a Super Bowl winner is almost as challenging as forecasting congressional intrigue. Capitol Hill is as volatile as the NFL. That's why no credible football observer can rule out the possibility of the Bengals or Eagles winning the big game. And that means there's a chance there could be another government shutdown this fall, and no one can rule that out.

Here's why:

Examine the machinations of House Republicans to approve their limited version of a border funding bill prior to the August Congressional recess. Obama initially called for $3.7 billion in spending and virtually no policy changes. House Republicans first crafted a $1.5 billion plan with some policy alterations, then downgraded that to $634 million with several policy changes. One final tweak the night before the debate featured a provision to curb the 2012 Obama administration's DACA memo (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The DACA edict gave immigration officials significant latitude for adjudicating whether illegal minors should be shipped out of the country. Infuriated by this executive action, House Republicans aimed to restrict Obama.

Moments before the expected vote, the GOP majority yanked the measure off the floor and started sending lawmakers home for the five-week recess. That's until the leadership executed an about-face and made additional changes to the legislation. The House finally approved a revised plan late the next night.

The House had to initiate some serious legislative gymnastics just to pull this off. But nothing ever went to the president's desk. That's because the Democratic-controlled Senate was stymied with its own $2.5 billion border plan. Senate Democrats fought GOP-proposed policy changes. Democrats insisted on more spending. As a result, the Senate could never find a supermajority of senators to vault several procedural hurdles. The House and Senate were never on the same page, to say nothing of the House struggling to pass a bill while the Senate fell short.

It's easy to dismiss this exercise as having nothing to do with funding the government. But in some respects, the border issue could set the table. The deadlock represents the political realities of Washington. It's almost impossible for the House and Senate to agree on anything. And successfully advancing a major bill out of either chamber is a yeoman's task.

It's possible the border could re-emerge as a flashpoint as Congress tries to approve a stopgap government funding plan. Obama threatened to go it alone once lawmakers failed to reach consensus on the border bill in July.

"While they're out on vacation I'm going to have to make some tough choices to meet the challenge, with or without Congress," said the president.

House Republicans recently voted to sue Obama for what they perceive is an unconstitutional, executive overreach on health care. Unilateral action on immigration policy could further embitter Republicans -- especially if the president takes action in September. A White House move before the election could be politically risky as the GOP could try to tie the gambit to vulnerable Senate Democrats. Conservatives may attempt to attach provisions to checkmate the president on such a potential executive action to a government funding bill. It's likely that measure could be the only piece of legislation leaving the Congressional station next month.

"Recent developments suggest the president's planned executive amnesty could be increasingly imminent and broad in scope," warned Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "The steps that must be taken are clear: the Senate must vote on the House-passed measure to stop these unlawful actions."

It's easy for Sessions, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other conservatives to throw a wrench into the September gearboxes. House conservatives already proved their willingness to handcuff the president when they balked at the first GOP plan. Moreover, Republicans could lean on Democrats facing tight races this fall like Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., to vote against the president. Pryor and Hagan broke with the Democratic leadership on a procedural vote involving the border bill two weeks ago.

A second partial government shutdown could prove catastrophic for Republicans shortly before the election. That's why there was chatter in senior House GOP circles a few weeks ago of voting on an emergency funding bill well before the October deadline. And considering Obama's anemic approval rating, it's unclear that the GOP would catch all of the blame for another shutdown.

A lot of pressure to fund the government will fall on the shoulders of newly-minted House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. Deserved or not, Scalise absorbed some darts after the party initially failed to nail down votes to advance the leadership's original border plan. But on "Fox News Sunday," Scalise responded with an emphatic "no" when asked if the government could close.

"We're going to keep the government running at current levels," Scalise said.

So there you have it. On the gridiron, even money says wager bets on NFL stalwarts San Francisco, Denver and New England. On Capitol Hill, the line favors the government remaining open.

But one never knows. They can't rule out Baltimore, San Diego or another team beating the odds. Those same odds apply this fall on Capitol Hill. 

Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.