Will Congress Keep the Government from Shutting Down?

Will Congress Keep the Government from Shutting Down?

Each year, Congress must pass the legislation needed to fund the federal government for the new fiscal year, which begins on October 1. That is supposed to be accomplished by the end of September. But it rarely happens anymore.

As a result, in most recent years, Congress has had to pass temporary legislation (one or more times) to keep the government from shutting down and allow for more time to try and pass new funding for the entire fiscal year. At a minimum, it will likely take at least until the end of December and could go into 2024.

It doesn’t help that Congress takes the month of August off. And while the Senate returns to session today, the House won’t return until next week. Then there will be additional time off during what’s left of September, so they will have only about two weeks to pass a bill to keep the federal government’s doors open.

Twelve funding bills are supposed to be passed to fund the various departments of the government. The House has passed only one of those bills, while the Senate has passed all 12 bills out of the appropriations committee but has yet to hold a vote by the entire Senate on any of the bills.

As you may recall, we just went through a funding crisis of a different sort just a few months ago. Back in late May, House Republican conservatives demanded deep cuts in spending for them to agree to raise the debt ceiling. Those plans had included plans by some GOP members to cut Medicare and Social Security spending. However, President Biden got them to agree to leave those programs alone when he delivered his State of the Union address.

The President and House Speaker McCarthy ultimately reached an agreement that avoided a default and set spending limits for the 2024 fiscal year.

Last Thursday, the Biden Administration formally asked Congress for a short-term funding package to avoid a shutdown on Oct. 1. However, even a stopgap measure to temporarily fund the government faces opposition from conservatives.

Republican hard-liners have said they oppose any funding to keep the government open unless their demands for spending cuts and changes to border policies are met. They largely ignore the spending levels agreed upon in the debt ceiling limit bill and demand even more cuts. Speaker McCarthy could risk his job if he ignores their demands.

The conservative lawmakers have also said they do not fear a government shutdown and view their demands as a way to break the status quo of Washington.

In the Senate, Democratic and Republican leaders have signaled they are open to temporary funding for the government. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for an extension of funding into December, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said such a bill was probable on Wednesday.

Ironically, there are estimates that a government shutdown actually costs taxpayers additional money. The Office of Management and Budget estimated that the 2013 government shutdown resulted in $2.5 billion of pay and benefits being paid to furloughed employees for hours not worked during the shutdown and the loss of roughly $10 million of penalty interest payments and fee collections.

TSCL urges both parties in Congress to reach an agreement and avoid a government shutdown that is in no one’s interest.