Note: This story was updated on Nov. 7 to reflect new information about budget negotiations.
Just when a shutdown seemed at hand, Congress passed a short-term budget measure to keep the government open for a few more weeks while lawmakers try again to reach a consensus on a full-year budget.
Now, the same threat looms once again.
President Joe Biden signed the 71-page continuing resolution on Sept. 30, just hours before the previous fiscal year ended.
Agencies’ budgets have remained at the level they were initially funded in 2023. While the deal was a relief for the millions of federal employees, contractors and service members who faced potential furloughs and delayed paychecks, it’s possible they will face the same risk next Friday.
Notably, the resolution left out funding for aid to Ukraine, though Biden said his administration remains committed to continuing financial support for the ongoing war effort, the Associated Press reported.
Another provision of the measure extended flexibility for the Department of the Interior and Department of the Agriculture to keep base pay salary increases for 10,000 federal firefighters. Then, on Nov. 3, the House approved its version of the 2024 Interior and environment appropriations bill, which included an amendment from two Democrats to maintain current funding provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for another year. Funds from the infrastructure bill that boosted pay for the first responders were originally set to expire after Sept. 30.
According to the National Federation of Federal Employees, a union, the Senate’s companion bill supports the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act, a permanent solution to avoiding the pay cliff.
Either way, a measure would have to be legislated to avoid the new pay cliff deadline of Nov. 17.
With less than two weeks before the funding deadline, House and Senate leaders have not made meaningful progress on a full-year budget deal or short-term compromise plan, Federal Times previously reported. New House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has said that budget cuts or other policy riders will be included in upcoming proposals from his chamber. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has called those ideas a dead end.
The current plan also reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration through Dec. 31 of this year and incorporates disaster relief funding worth $16 billion.
The House passed the stopgap measure 335-91, with the Senate then passing it in an 88-9 vote.
Continuing resolutions are no panacea
“We’ve seen in the course of our research [that] agencies certainly don’t like operating under a CR,” said Andrew Lautz, a senior analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “It makes it harder to plan in the long run and sometimes in the short run, as well. It makes it harder to start new programs or activities or sign new contracts.”
The CR says as much, reiterating in the text that “funding shall be spent in the most limited manner possible to continue projects and activities, as Congress has not made final funding determinations for fiscal year 2024.”
According to the Government Accountability Office, continuing resolutions limit agencies’ ability to initiate new programs and hiring and adds administrative burdens.
There have been 47 continuing resolutions from 2010 to 2022.
Senior Defense officials testifying before the House Appropriations committee in 2022 said that at least for the Pentagon, a continuing resolution has a negative impact on readiness because of its temporary nature.
“A CR would move us in the wrong direction and leave us stuck in the wrong place,” Michael J. McCord, the department’s comptroller said last winter. “If you want us to be more agile, a CR has the opposite effect.”
The other wrinkle complicating this year’s funding debate is the debt limit deal that President Biden signed in June.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act also disincentivizes Congress from simply enacting a chain of CRs each year by forcing an automatic overall 1% cut if a stopgap is still in place come Jan. 1, 2024.
However, Lautz noted that the automatic cuts would not be enforced until April via sequestration order.
“That gives lawmakers a lot of room to have a CR in place for a lengthy amount of time before that sort of penalty under the Fiscal Responsibility Act takes effect,” Lautz said.
In the last 25 years, Congress has completed the full appropriations processes prior to April 30 in all but one year, according to Akin, a multinational law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Bryant Harris and Leo Shane III contributed reporting.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.