Grace Byers is a first-year law student at American University Washington College of Law. She graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in International Studies, and before law school, she worked as a Congressional Researcher for the Embassy of Japan.

The DMV has the largest number of federal workers, over 300,000, and a looming shutdown means that most of those workers could be furloughed or work without pay.[1] Over the years, it has been increasingly difficult for Congress to pass at least one regular appropriations bill on or before October 1, the fiscal deadline.

Congress employs a continuing resolution (CR) when a funding gap is set to occur without the passage of a regular appropriations act before the fiscal deadline, and is used for a specified duration of time.[2] It can be as short as one day and as long as 365 days, which has occurred three times in the past twenty years.[3] Since FY2011, there have been only two instances of one or more appropriations bill being enacted by the deadline.[4] Congress has enacted one or more continuing resolutions in all but three fiscal years since FY1977, with 200 being enacted into law between FY1977-FY2023.[5]

Currently, the FY2024 topline agreement provides for a total of $773 billion in nondefense discretionary spending, including $704 billion in base nondefense spending, $69 billion in side deals, and $886 billion in defense spending.[6] So far, there have been four CRs passed this fiscal year, with the bills split into two packages.[7]  Continuing resolutions are temporary but are crucial towards allowing the federal government to continue operations when Congress and the President have yet to decide on appropriations for the fiscal year.[8] There are no alternatives other than enacting final appropriations.[9]

CRs are common but they can impact agencies in a negative way when used.[10] For example, officials for the Department of Health and Human Services have said that financial and human resources staff spend time planning and preparing for a potential shutdown rather than working on their regular responsibilities.[11]

The political implications for this fiscal year have been costly in Congress as former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) relied on House Democrats to pass the first CR and lost his speakership because of it.[12] Many of the outstanding issues with four of the appropriations bills have been sorted out, but the Defense, Homeland Security, and State-Foreign Operations bills are putting pressure on House Republican Leadership to attach pieces of a foreign aid package and war funding supplemental to one of the packages.[13] However, some members in the Republican House Freedom Caucus are putting pressure on the party to push for more spending cuts to tackle the increasing deficit.

In order for the final appropriations legislation to make it through to the Senate, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) can only lose two Republican votes if no Democrats vote for the package, and with members of the House Freedom Caucus on the fence, he will have to decide if he wants to go the same route McCarthy did and strike a deal with House Democrats.[14]

Congress is on track to pass a package of six appropriations bills in a win for Speaker Johnson, but a partial government shutdown is still possible.[15] If there is no new budget by April 30, there will be a one percent across-the-board spending cut, which was agreed upon by President Biden and McCarthy when deciding topline spending.[16] One of the goals for Republicans is to decrease spending so that Congress can tackle the deficit; still, Democrats are worried decreased spending will only cause there not to be enough money to fund programs.[17] Whether another CR is brought to the floor for the other three bills, a deal is made with Democrats, or a budget passes the House, it is all up to what Speaker Johnson does in the upcoming weeks.

 

[1] Mimi Montgomery & Juliegrace Brufke, Yes, D.C. may be facing a government shutdown (again), Axios, (Feb. 22, 2024), https://www.axios.com/local/washington-dc/2024/02/22/government-shutdown-house-republicans.

[2] James V. Saturno et al., Cong. Rsch. Serv., R46595, Continuing Resolutions: Overview of Components and Practices 2 (2023).

[3] Id. at 12.

[4] Id. at 11.

[5] Id. at 1.

[6] Upcoming congressional fiscal policy deadlines, Comm. for a Responsible Fed. Budget, (Feb. 16, 2024), https://www.crfb.org/blogs/upcoming-congressional-fiscal-policy-deadlines.

[7] Jacob Bogage, Congress passes short-term funding extension to avert government shutdown, The Washington Post (Feb. 29, 2024, 8;15 AM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2024/02/29/government-shutdown-deal-vote-cr/.

[8] U.S. Gov’t Accountability Off., GAO-22-104701, Federal budget:

Selected Agencies and Programs Used Strategies to Manage Constraints of Continuing Resolutions 8 (2022).

[9] Id. at 1.

[10] Id. at 22.

[11] Id. at 15-16.

[12] Ed Kilgore, Congress is hurtling toward a government shutdown, Intelligencer, (Feb. 21, 2024), https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/congress-government-shutdown.html.

[13] Aiden Quigley, Tall order for lawmakers to finish spending bills next week, Roll Call, (Feb. 21, 2024, 9:30 AM)), https://rollcall.com/2024/02/21/tall-order-for-lawmakers-to-finish-spending-bills-next-week/.

[14] See Mansee Khurana, House conservatives oppose bipartisan spending agreement, demanding further cuts, NPR, (Jan. 9, 2024, 1:06 PM), https://www.npr.org/2024/01/09/1223626340/house-gop-leaders-will-need-to-convince-members-to-pass-spending-deal.

[15] Mychael Schnell & Aris Folley, House approves spending package to avert shutdown, The Hill, (Mar. 6, 2024, 4:20 PM), https://thehill.com/homenews/house/4513807-house-approves-spending-package-to-avert-shutdown/

[16] Andrew Solender et al., White House and GOP reach tentative debt ceiling deal, Axios, (May 27, 2023), https://www.axios.com/2023/05/28/debt-ceiling-deal-republicans-white-house.

[17] See Mimi Montgomery & Juliegrace Brufke, Yes, D.C. may be facing a government shutdown (again), Axios, (Feb. 22, 2024), https://www.axios.com/local/washington-dc/2024/02/22/government-shutdown-house-republicans.