Congress passes continuing resolution, avoids government shutdown

With hours to spare before plunging the federal government into the second shutdown in as many years, Congress passed a temporary funding bill to keep the government open through mid-December.

The House passed the stopgap measure 277-151. It provides funding for the government until Dec. 11. Congress had until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 30) to pass a budget for the next fiscal year. Without funding for the first day of the new year — Oct. 1 — the government would be closed for business.

In a statement from the White House, the administration called the vote a “step away from the brink” and said the President would sign the bill when it reached his desk.

“But the American people deserve far better than last-minute, short-term legislating,” the White House said. “That’s why Congress should pass a budget that reverses harmful spending cuts known as sequestration to allow for critical investments in our military readiness, infrastructure, schools, public health, and R&D that keep our companies on the cutting edge. Congress can and should get this work done without delay. There is no reason that we should deny American families and businesses the certainty and support they need by kicking the can down the road again.”

CR is a temporary Band-Aid

Warnings about a temporary solution to an ongoing problem came from both sides of the aisle, as congressional members voiced their concerns about the next 10 weeks.

“It is to my great dismay that we are at this point again, requiring a temporary Band-Aid to buy us time to do our duty,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, (R-Ky.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, during House debate, according to the AP.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said the vote was “not a victory for anybody.”

“In the coming months, we need to pass a long-term transportation funding bill, renew the Export-Import Bank that helps American companies stay competitive overseas, and raise the debt ceiling to prevent a default that would be catastrophic, all while negotiating a spending agreement to keep the government open when this CR expires on Dec. 11,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

But House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called the bill’s passage an “opportunity.”

“Congress now has an opportunity — indeed, a responsibility — over the next ten weeks to reach bipartisan agreement on appropriations and an end to the dangerous sequester,” Hoyer said. “I hope Democrats and Republicans will now come together to enter negotiations with a commitment to reaching a balanced compromise that adheres to the Murray-Ryan principle of parity for sequester relief for the defense and non-defense caps.  While we continue to pursue fiscal sustainability, Congress must have the ability to prioritize our nation’s investments in national security, economic growth, and opportunity.”

The spending bill was voted out of the Senate — where it was first introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — in a 78-20 vote earlier Wednesday.

Earlier in the week McConnell called the measure “the only viable way forward in the short term,” reported the Associated Press.  “It doesn’t represent my first, second, third or 23rd choice when it comes to funding the government, but it will keep the government open through the fall.”

Voting to fund the government comes just days after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stunned Capitol Hill with his announcement that he would be resigning from Congress at the end of October.

“We have to stop devastating sequester cuts from hitting our military and middle class, even the Republican leader agrees,” said Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), according to the AP. “Because a week or 10 days ago he said `We are inevitably going to end up in negotiations that will crack the Budget Control Act once again.’ I say `hallelujah.”’

Postponing a crisis

Federal employee advocates were also skeptical of the temporary funding bill.

Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, chastised Congress “for taking the country to the brink of yet another unnecessary and dangerous government shutdown.”

“Shutdown showdowns cannot and must not become business as usual. These exercises in futility erode the public’s confidence in its government. Federal employees should never have been forced to endure the anxiety of not knowing if they would be furloughed or forced to work without a paycheck. These are middle-class workers with bills to pay and families to support,” Reardon said.

J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement that the CR simply gave federal employees another 10 weeks of worry.

“The only thing Congress accomplished by averting a government shutdown was postponing a crisis it created in the first place,” Cox said. “In 10 weeks, we will be back here again unless Congress does its job and fully funds the federal government for the coming year.”

“Congress must repeal sequestration — no ifs, ands, or buts,” Cox said. “These indiscriminate cuts will be catastrophic, not just to federal programs and services but to the American economy. If sequestration continues, basic programs and services that Americans count on will be in jeopardy — things like applying for Social Security benefits, getting loans for new houses or small businesses, and ensuring our food and water supply is safe. Congress needs to end sequestration and provide federal agencies with enough resources to continue to deliver the programs and services that Americans rely on.”

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, had a similar critique of Congress.

“This patchwork fix won’t last for long. Federal agencies have already spent millions of dollars and countless man hours preparing for a government shut-down and will have to revisit this issue again when Congress takes up the budget in December.”

The 16-day government shutdown triggered in 2013 forced federal employees to miss millions of days of work, and agencies lost millions of dollars in revenue.

In its post-shutdown analysis from 2013, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that federal workers missed 6.6 million days of work and cost more than $2.5 billion in lost productivity, and pay and benefits for employees. Overall, federal agencies furloughed roughly 850,000 employees per day in the early days of the 2013 shutdown — nearly 40 percent of the entire civilian federal workforce, OMB’s report stated.

This story based in part on AP wire reports.

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