Last night Congress sent a package to the President’s desk that includes a stopgap continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government through December 9, avoiding a pre-election shutdown and delaying remaining final decisions on FY17 spending until the lame-duck session, at the earliest.
The package includes the CR, which continues funding at close to current levels for most agencies and programs, $1.1 billion in Zika funding, disaster relief for Louisiana, and the regular FY17 Military Construction-Veterans’ Affairs appropriations bill – the first spending bill of the year to be signed in to law. The CR portion of the package is necessary because Congress has yet to complete work on any of the other eleven annual appropriations bills.
With the government’s lights guaranteed to be on through the election, Members of Congress may safely focus all their attention on the prospects for November 8. When Congress returns for its lame-duck session on November 14, the focus will be on whether to finalize FY17 funding or enact another stopgap that would delay final funding decisions until next spring, when a new Congress and President are in place. At this time, fiscal conservatives prefer a CR that would extend into March 2017 to avoid likely lame-duck spending increases. However, a long-term CR is typically not good for research accounts, as agencies are forced to triage limited funds by delaying the start of new programs and funding existing grants at less than anticipated amounts. Reassuringly, congressional leadership, appropriators, and indeed most members prefer to complete work on FY17, but House and Senate bills still need to be reconciled, disagreements over policy provisions need to be ironed out, and a number of other legislative priorities – such as a defense bill and a water resources bill that includes funding for the Flint, Michigan water crisis – also need to be addressed by the end of the calendar year. No doubt decisions made during the lame-duck will be shaped by who wins the White House and control of the House and Senate. Members will weigh who holds the advantage in addressing remaining issues with the current configuration, against putting off decisions until new leadership is in place.
We will continue to follow developments closely and, as the full year’s appropriations picture comes into focus in December, we will stay in touch on the latest significant developments. Please feel free to reach out to Suzanne Day (Suzanne_Day@harvard.edu) or Jon Groteboer (Jon_Groteboer@harvard.edu) in Harvard’s DC office at 202-863-1292 with any thoughts or questions.