Any chance Congress had this year of smoothly completing work on its annual spending bills is now all but dead, leaving Republican leaders to grapple with how to avoid a contentious fight in the weeks before the election over how to avoid the threat of a government shutdown.

The process of moving individual appropriations bills was limping along in both chambers this year and last week it essentially halted when Senate Democrats blocked consideration of a defense funding measure while threatening to do the same with any other spending bills brought up for consideration.

Democrats argued that Republican leaders were not honoring a bipartisan budget deal struck late last year by including policy provisions they oppose in the bills and by not promising that domestic programs would receive as big a funding increase as the military.

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Republicans are now debating how long a stop-gap spending bill they need to move before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 should last. Congress goes on a seven week recess after this week and will return after Labor Day.

Some House conservatives are pushing for a bill, known as a continuing resolution or CR, that would last six months so work on this year’s annual spending work can be completed with a new president in the White House rather than have a massive year-end omnibus funding measure pushed through during a post-election lame duck session. A CR generally funds the government at current spending levels and includes few policy provisions.

“A short term CR for six months would probably be okay,” said Bill Flores (R-Texas), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “Sometime in March.”

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But other Republicans argue Congress should not leave for the year without completing its spending work because the next president will have enough on their plate without having to worry about a budget fight shortly after taking office in January.

“We should aim to get all of our work done,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Some Republicans also said they worry a stop-gap bill that lasts into next year could forfeit the chance to attach language to any year-end omnibus spending package that would block any last minute policy actions by the Obama administration.

“We don’t have any idea right now all the things that this administration is going to pop us with and propose,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas). “You give up your say when you do a CR.”

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Earlier this year leaders in both parties and chambers were hopeful that the annual appropriations process could at least be partially completed without the drama and stalemates of recent years.

This optimism was due to a budget deal then-Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Democrats struck last fall on an overall discretionary funding level of $1.07 trillion for the upcoming fiscal year.

But conservatives in the House hated the deal from the beginning and have insisted that they will not support any spending measures that adhere to the funding increases included the agreement, greatly complicating work in the House.

Senate Republicans largely stuck to the terms of the deal, but the appropriations process still hit a wall last week when Democrats blocked the defense spending bill.

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In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Democrats argued that Republicans have routinely undermined the agreement.

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They insisted Republican leaders “publicly give your word” that they will stick to the terms of the budget agreement, warning that otherwise “we will be forced to oppose proceeding to future appropriations bills.”

McConnell dismissed the letter and Democrats blocked the Senate from considering defense spending bill, setting the stage for another contentious year-end budget debate.

Karoun Demirjian and Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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