In less than a month, the government may shut down. Lines are being drawn. Vacations are being canceled. Friends are becoming enemies.
Are you concerned yet? Confused? Well, if you're not, you should be.
At the center of complex negotiations in Washington is a sturdy little political device known as a continuing resolution, also called a "CR."
A continuing resolution? A CR? What in the heck is that? Good question. It is a legislative tool designed to keep the government running when the president and Congress can't get it together.
By October 1 -- the deadline to keep funding everything in the government from the IRS to the Army -- you'll probably hear the term hundreds of times in news articles and out of the mouths of commentators and pundits. So let's explain:
Q: What is a 'CR'?
A: It's a legislative trick to pay the bills. The federal government's fiscal year starts October 1. And the one key duty laid out in the Constitution for Congress is to pass spending bills that fund the government.
Want a few billion for roads and bridges? Go see Congress. That aircraft carrier needs a new paint job? Congress is the place to go.
Sounds simple enough, but, in reality, the House and the Senate haven't done their job.
In the past year, Congress hasn't passed any of the 12 different spending bills that fund the much of the government, including defense programs, transportation projects and education.
So when Congress doesn't do its job, then it has to pass a continuing resolution, also referred to as a short-term spending bill or a stop-gap spending measure.
It is a bill that sidesteps the lengthy budget process and funds the government for a specified period of time. It can last anywhere from a day to a year.
CRs are not an anomaly. They have been used 156 times between 1977 and 2011.
And before 1977, they were so common that Congress changed the start of the fiscal year from July to October to give lawmakers more time to pass the spending bills. That worked for a few years but then Congress settled into the new schedule and, like any high school student -- or journalist on deadline -- it procrastinated. So it had to revert back to the use of CRs to keep the government open.
And here we are.
Q: Why shut down the government?
A: Yea, why? And what does CR have to do with a government shutdown?
Often, a CR is a simple legislative extension to accommodate lawmakers who don't get their work done. It's not designed to solve a debate embroiled in partisan politics.
"Typically these appropriations bills are not that partisan," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
But that's not always the case.
Congress "recognizes one of their leverages is the power of the purse," Ellis said, adding that politicization of the budget process has become more polarized during the Obama administration.
House Speaker John Boehner has proposed a short-term spending bill that would fund the government until December 15. But then politics got in the way.
This year, a core group of conservative Republicans in the House wants to tie the entire $986 billion annual operating budget to a provision to defund the health care law known as Obamacare.
Still, it's rare that the threat of a government shutdown revolves around a partisan legislative poison pill. More often it's about spending levels and the size of the government.
That's the track Republicans usually take. Since 2011, they have used budget battles -- and taken the country to the edge of government shutdown -- to extract $2.3 trillion from federal spending.