House advances nine-week continuing resolution, but it faces uphill Senate battle

This story was updated on Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 8:45 p.m. with details of the House votes on the continuing resolution, as well as the details of a second CR proposal from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

The House passed a temporary, stop-gap funding measure Tuesday night, the first of what may be several hurdles needed to avoid a government shutdown in the next nine days.

The continuing resolution would keep agencies running through Dec. 3. It cleared the House along party lines with a 220-211 vote.

The CR includes $28.6 billion in additional disaster relief funding, as well as $6.3 billion to support resettlement efforts for Afghan evacuees, priorities for both the Biden administration and a bipartisan group of lawmakers whose home states have been impacted by recent hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.

The measure theoretically buys Congress about nine additional weeks to negotiate full-year spending bills for the rest of fiscal 2022, or perhaps more likely, an omnibus package that funds most agencies for the remainder of the year.

“Both Republicans and Democrats have priorities they want to see addressed in the regular order appropriations process for fiscal year 2022, and an extension of government funding through December will provide an appropriate amount of time for that bipartisan, bicameral process to come to completion,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday in a joint statement announcing their plans for the CR.

But it’s unclear whether the continuing resolution will pass both chambers of Congress in its current form. The bill would also suspend the debt limit through Dec. 16, 2022, a measure Republicans have said they’re unwilling to support.

“I don’t like government shutdowns. I don’t think any appropriator certainly does, but I don’t think any responsible members like shutdowns. It’s a high risk thing and something we don’t like,” Tom Cole (R-Okla.), ranking member of the House Rules Committee, said Tuesday morning during a meeting to consider the CR.

“You have the votes to pass it here, that’s fair enough. But you know you don’t have them in the United States Senate,” he added. “And if any of you think you’re going to break Mitch McConnell on this, good luck with that. It’s going to be an interesting spectacle to watch. So I suspect in a week or so we’ll back here again with a bill that I can support and I think many people on my side of the aisle will.”

McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) introduced their own continuing resolution Tuesday night. It’s nearly identical to the one the House passed, but it excludes the debt limit suspension and a few other provisions.

Democrats have reiterated that raising the debt ceiling would simply pay for the debts the country has already incurred, including those that provided COVID-19 relief funding that earned bipartisan support last year.

“I urge my colleagues not to turn this into a political football,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the committee’s chairman. “I get it, everything’s political around here, but this shouldn’t be.”

The disagreement sets up a potential showdown on Capitol Hill with a little more than a week before the government shutdown deadline next Thursday.

“I want repeat once again America must never default,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “We never have and we never will. But whose obligation it is to do that changes from time to time, depending on the government the American people elected. Right now we have a Democratic president, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate.”

Like past continuing resolutions, the measure sustains some expiring programs and allows agencies to maintain current operations to avoid employee furloughs.

It would also reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program, allow DoD to continue certain military construction projects and extend the authority for members of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to carry over unused annual leave for another year.

The continuing resolution sets aside $250 million in funding for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to process additional refugee applications and address an existing backlog of pending cases.

It allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to transfer existing funds for the purposes of handling an anticipated increase in disability claims. VA established three new presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange for veterans who served in southwest Asia and other areas, and without additional capacity and staff, the Biden administration has said the department could face delays with these new claims.

Several federal agencies would receive additional funding to repair damaged facilities from recent natural disasters. NASA, for example, would get $321.4 million to repair damaged facilities and equipment from Hurricanes Zeta and Ida, while the Navy and Air Force would see millions of dollars for similar purposes.

The Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense and State would receive the majority of the extra funding to continue the Afghan evacuee resettlement program, an effort known as Operation Allies Welcome.

DoD’s inspector general must report on the execution of those funds under the terms of the continuing resolution.

Meanwhile, the federal contracting community is preparing for the possibility of a government shutdown later this month. The Professional Services Council is reminding its member companies to start talking to their agency customers early about the preparations.

“I don’t know where this is going to end up, but the chances of a shutdown are not zero and the consequences would be quite serious,” David Berteau, PSC president and CEO, said Tuesday in an interview on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

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