By Zeke Miller

It's a scene that's repeated itself at least three times this year — the government is hours from a shutdown, and congressional lawmakers remain far apart on an agreement. But this time, it just might happen.

Much of the federal government will shut down early Saturday morning if lawmakers can't pass a nearly $1 trillion spending bill, or a short-term stop gap.  The spending bill was thought to be done early this week, with both Speaker of the House John Boehner and Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) saying there was an agreement.

But, President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hadn't signed off on the bill, aides say, and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said late Wednesday night that the president has "significant concerns" about it. The administration is troubled by a number of policy riders in the bill, which would reinstate some sanctions on Cuba, among other issues.

Obama had pushed Reid to stall the "omnibus" spending bill in order to force Boehner's hand on the payroll tax cut, but the strategy appears to be backfiring. Democrats are close to abandoning the millionaires surtax to pay for the tax break, but Republicans haven't shown any willingness to drop a provision expediting a review of the Keystone XL pipeline — which has drawn a veto threat from Obama.

Instead, the White House encouraged lawmakers to move forward with the short-term continuing resolution — though House Republicans have so far moved in the opposite direction.

Early Thursday the House Appropriations Committee released three new spending bills to keep the lights on — largely based off what Democratic and Republican lawmakers agreed to over weeks of negotiation. Boehner is looking to pass the bill in the House on Friday morning, and then leave it to the Senate to take it or leave it.

The Senate can still amend and pass the conference report, which is guaranteed a quick vote, in order to make the Friday night deadline, but any other measure — including the new House bills and a short-term spending bill — would be subject to a filibuster and may or may not keep the lights on.

Beyond the technical concerns, Reid, Boehner, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell aren't negotiating all that much, POLITICO reports:

"Mitch McConnell says Harry Reid should talk to John Boehner. Reid says he wants to talk to Boehner to hash out a compromise on extending the payroll tax holiday and jobless benefits. But Boehner first wants Reid to show his hand by actually passing something."

Indeed, the shutdown threat seems to have caught everyone by surprise — Cabinet agencies just started preparing for the possibility of shutting down yesterday — and  few lawmakers were prepared for this sort of fight this close to the holidays.

The scene is nothing new: House and Senate leaders squabble with the White House and each other to pass legislation they both agree is vital. It played out all year from the debt ceiling negotiations to six prior rounds of spending negotiations. This time, though, the worst case seems likelier than ever to come about.


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