After weeks of virtue signaling, partisan bickering, and fear mongering over a government shutdown, Congress finally managed to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the wheels turning beyond September 30. But a 70-plus-page bill that only keeps the government running for another 45 days doesn’t seem like much to brag about. Republicans and Democrats have all year to come up with a budget that works. Instead, as usual, it took them until just hours before funding ran out to settle on a temporary continuance – and now they’ll have to do it all over again mid-November.
No, the government didn’t run out of money at midnight. Yes, lawmakers will almost certainly manage, at the very least, another CR – if not quite in time to prevent a shutdown in November, then at least shortly after. But can we really call this Congress doing its job?
Crisis Averted – Well, Sort Of
After far too much political grandstanding on the taxpayer’s dime, the House passed the 45-day continuing resolution put forward by Republicans with a bipartisan 335 to 91, with seven not voting.
After a request by the Democrats for a 90-minute break so that folks could read the 71-page document was denied, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), the minority whip, made a motion to adjourn for the day. No one actually voted in favor of the motion; she was simply stalling for time to read. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) then gave a long-winded speech that, one must assume, was also aimed at gaining his party some time to read.
Eventually, all Democrats but three supported the CR. Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois opposed, and Alaska’s Mary Sattler Peltola and California’s Katie Porter withheld their votes. Five Republicans abstained, and 90 opposed. Ultimately, more Democrats (209) supported the CR than Republicans (126).
The resolution then went on to the Senate, which eventually passed it 88-9, though the journey through the upper chamber was not without its own drama. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) held up the vote Saturday night because he opposed the lack of funding for Ukraine. He demanded the Senate issue a statement “underscoring that we’re going to spend the next 45 days working together to pass a robust Ukraine aid package.” He got his way, let the vote happen, and even voted in favor of the CR.
The no votes were Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Braun (R-IN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Mike Lee (R-UT), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Rand Paul (R-KY), Eric Schmitt (R-Mo), and J.D. Vance (R-OH) – all Republicans. One from each party – Tim Scott (R-SC) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) did not vote, and as predicted, the absence of the late Dianne Feinstein had no discernible effect on the outcome.
CR, Shutdown, or Full-Year Funding: It Costs Us
Has Congress really averted a crisis by passing stop-gap funding, though? According to the US Government Accountability Office, Congress hasn’t managed to meet the annual funding deadline of October 1 without relying on at least one CR since 1997 – in fact, they’ve only accomplished it four times since the 1970s. This constant can kicking doesn’t just push the issue down the road – it creates new problems in the present. New projects often can’t be started, and ones already in progress may be halted, temporarily, which drives up costs – especially when unfinished work ends up having to be redone after long delays.
Still, those problems, and many more, are worse in an actual shutdown – which is a bit of a misnomer since most of the government is nondiscretionary and keeps going regardless of these annual spending bills. Thousands of “nonessential” federal employees are sent home and pay is stopped, in many cases, even for those who aren’t sent home because they’re considered essential. But when the so-called shutdown is over, all those employees get their backpay – including those who weren’t actually at work doing their jobs. For furloughed employees, it becomes a paid vacation.
No shutdown or CR has actually brought down the government or American society yet, but both do end up costing us more in the end, and that debt is piling up. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation, but what’s the real solution? The CR that’s only good for 45 days was a whopping 71 pages long. The last full-year funding bill, passed in December of 2022, came in at 4,155 pages. With all that pork, is it any wonder lawmakers can’t come to an agreement in a timely manner? Perhaps the annual funding process would be easier if Congress took smaller bites, addressing each appropriation category in its own bill instead of a massive omnibus with three-and-a-half times as many pages as the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.