Update 587 — Shutdown Averted for 21 Days
Long Live FY 21 Amid Continuing Irresolution
Last night, the Senate voted to approve a short-term spending bill to fund the government through March 11, which the House passed last week. This is the fourth time Congress has passed a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open since the fiscal year began last October. Extending the CR for another few weeks ad nauseam is a flawed and default approach to governance, one that cheats beneficiaries from kids to defense contractors.
This long-lived CR keeps funding at levels approved by Congress in 2020, for Fiscal Year 2021, freezing the amount passed during the Trump administration. New programs aren’t being fully funded and older programs that need more money aren’t getting it. Funding for projects in the bipartisan infrastructure bill has been delayed since new spending bills haven’t been approved.
Today, we look at the drawbacks of the can-kicking, the need for Democrats to pass an omnibus spending bill for FY 2022, and the cost of a long-term CR that extends the dead-arm reach of Trump’s OMB — if elections should have consequences.
Good weekends all,
Bipartisanship in Name Only
While there has been a newfound wave of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, Republicans have attempted to stall the essential process of funding the government. The omnibus negotiations have been delayed because Republicans want parity in defense and nondefense spending, which has pushed Congress to pass another continuing resolution.
The Republican grievances have extended to the CR, namely on the Senate side. Senator Blackburn stalled a vote on the funding bill due to concerns regarding a provision in a harm reduction grant program run by the Health and Human Services Department.
With one crisis averted, the next obstacles came with amendment votes. The Senate’s passage of the funding bill comes after a days-long drama as senators tried to get a deal that would clear a path for the legislation. Because of the Senate’s rules, and the looming deadline, they needed buy-in from all 100 members to meet the bill’s deadline. Senators Lee, Marshall, Lummis, Braun, Paul, and Cruz signed a letter saying they won’t vote for a CR unless there is a vote on an amendment to defund vaccine mandates.
This played out similarly in December when passing the last short-term spending bill. The vote on the amendment then failed 48-50 with two Republicans absent. This time there were three amendments: two related to Biden’s vaccine mandates and a third from Senator Braun. The Braun amendment would establish a new Senate point of order against any future congressional budget resolution not showing a balanced budget by Year 10. Despite agreeing on what amendments would be included, the Senate was stuck in limbo for hours on Thursday because of a basic problem: math. The chamber started the day with two GOP senators absent, Burr and Graham, along with three Democratic senators: Luján, Feinstein, and Kelly.
Moving Beyond the CR
House Appropriations Committee Chair DeLauro and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Leahy announced on February 9 that bipartisan, bicameral negotiators had agreed to a framework to complete the fiscal year 2022 appropriations process. The announcement added that the framework would allow all 12 appropriations subcommittees to begin finalizing an FY 2022 omnibus spending bill.
Democrats are seeking to enact their trifecta’s agenda, while Republicans are fighting for a military budget increase far above the sub-2 percent increase President Joe Biden requested. Congress already backed a $25 billion increase to the President’s defense funding request in December, passing a $778 billion defense budget, about a 5 percent increase above current spending. That total was authorized and not funded, but GOP leaders saw it as a sign they could squeeze Democrats for at least that much defense money in a final spending package, and insist on “parity” — equal increases in defense and nondefense spending.
The Biden administration has also signaled to Congress that it wants $30 billion in additional Covid aid. The request has not yet been fleshed out, but it’s expected to include new money for testing, vaccines, and therapeutics. This will undoubtedly be quite a battle. Speaker Pelosi can probably get a Covid relief bill through the House, but the Senate will be a tougher hill to climb. Republicans – including Senate Minority Leader McConnell – have pushed for the government to use what they say are billions of unused Covid dollars. The big fight on the Hill has been whether to include this money in a yearlong spending bill.
So what do the Republicans want? McConnell has reiterated Republicans’ main requirements for getting an omnibus deal:
- Equal increases for defense and non-defense spending
- Preservation of “long-standing bipartisan policy riders,” like the Hyde amendment that blocks certain health insurance programs from covering abortion and a provision that prevents the IRS from targeting taxpayers for their political beliefs
- Avoidance of “new partisan poison pills” in the final package
Senate Appropriations Chair Leahy acknowledged last Wednesday that “in any successful negotiation, both sides have to compromise, and this agreement is no different.” While spending leaders have not disclosed whether earmarks will make it into the final spending package, the final plan is expected to retain many of the projects included in the House’s funding bills last summer. House Democrats revived the earmarks process last year, with new rules to try to prevent the kind of kickbacks that led to corruption charges for lawmakers more than a decade ago.
Same Old, Same Old Isn’t Working
Passing CR after CR is a terrible way to run the government: Funding levels have not changed since the previous budget. Old programs are left with inadequate funding and new programs cannot begin. With four continuing resolutions under Congress’ belt for almost half of Fiscal Year 2022, it is more critical than ever to pass an appropriations package that carries out Biden’s agenda.
The use of CRs stalls the work of the Democratic trifecta even further. When it comes to passing an omnibus bill, Democrats should be worried about the consequences of another CR and try everything they can to pass new spending. In a letter to the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Senator Mark Warner highlighted that many programs authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will not be fully funded until Congress approves a new spending package for 2022. Additionally, without a new congressional spending deal, there is no funding to support new transportation grant programs approved by Congress as part of the infrastructure law.
Agencies and departments operating with outdated budgets degrade the efficacy of their missions and programs. The federal government is less equipped to serve the American people and less prepared to compete on the global stage. New, innovative, and necessary programs cannot be enacted. Departments like Defense, Commerce, Transportation, and Health and Human Services are unable to carry out their programs that contribute to the success of our economy, security, and livelihood.
Passing another CR this week will allow lawmakers to avoid a government shutdown, and that’s a good thing. When the government shuts down, workers across many agencies are furloughed and services like tax return processing are halted. Using a short-term fix, though, means most funding for government programs is stuck at the previous levels approved in 2020. As a result, money for key services will be temporarily held up and go out later than expected, much like the funding in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Congress’s latest CR will give lawmakers until mid-March to reach a compromise, though the ongoing conflicts they’ve had offer no guarantee that they’ll succeed. Meanwhile, the consistent use of these short-term bills makes the government much less effective at spending its money and unable to react to the emerging needs of various agencies.