Congress has apparently decided that it can only deal with one major fight at a time. At the same time that the parties jockey over whether to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance, at the end of this week the current continuing resolution to fund the government expires. Currently only one-quarter of the 12 annual appropriations bills have been completed and signed by the President. So either the other nine get wrapped into one big package or another CR is needed to avoid a government shutdown.

Instead of the usual debate on this topic, some progress has apparently been made on an agreement that would fund the government through the fiscal year.

Put this in the “small accomplishments” category for an especially gridlocked Congress: It appears increasingly likely that, with little fuss, lawmakers will approve a bipartisan compromise in coming days that will keep government running past Friday, when a short-term funding measure that has kept the lights on expires.

Partisan clashes have brought the government to the brink of a shutdown three times in the past year. But this time, appropriators from the House and Senate have been quietly working toward the unveiling, expected late Monday, of a compromise spending measure that would outline how government agencies should spend nearly $1 trillion through Sept. 30, 2012.

Lots of House Republicans are sure to vote against the measure, but the expectation is that enough Democrats will climb aboard to get it done.

This would get paired with a compromise agreement on the defense authorization bill, which has already drawn a veto threat from the White House. But that wouldn’t necessarily factor into a government funding delay.

The reasons for the stand-down probably have a lot to do with the other events igniting Capitol Hill at the moment. The payroll tax and unemployment benefits extensions have really driven the discussion. The funding of the government has become an afterthought. The level of funding was already locked in by the debt limit deal, so there isn’t much to fight over. Republicans could hold the deal hostage to unrelated riders, but they never had much time to vote on them and embed them in any agreement. Plus, they have another vehicle to force through riders in the form of the payroll tax/unemployment insurance legislation. So that will suffice.

I guess the moral is that, if you figure out a level of spending beforehand, and run interference with another big bill, the parties can work together. Huzzah!

More on the mechanics of this from David Waldman.