Labor Day is fast approaching and that means Congress will return to Washington from its August recess. With it, the legislative body will be met with some major, yet typical, items on its September to-do list. The most significant being passing a continuing resolution to keep the federal government running after the start of Fiscal Year 2024.
It’s no longer a question of if a CR will be needed; neither chamber has passed all of their appropriations bills. With FY24 beginning on October 1st, Congress must act or risk a government shutdown. The Senate is further along, having passed all their bills through the Senate Appropriations Committee, and most on a bipartisan basis, but none have gotten to the full Senate for consideration. The House is more incomplete, having passed most, but not all, of their funding bills through their Approps Committee. But there are some important hold-ups; for example, we are still waiting on details of the House Commerce, Justice, Science bill, which contains the budgets for NSF, NIST, and NASA. Put simply, both chambers are not close to being done with their work, hence the need for a continuing resolution.
What’s the hold up? It’s the same recurring story: a group of hardline conservative members of the House GOP Caucus are demanding partisan policy provisions and significant reductions in federal spending to win their votes on any CR or spending legislation. Since the Republican majority in the House is so small, only four votes, this group is able to wield a great deal of influence over the process.
The House GOP leadership has to take their threats seriously; they can’t just cut a deal with House Democrats to move a spending bill. Back in June, after the Debt Limit Budget Agreement was signed into law, which this same group of Republican members voted against, they effectively shut down the House by refusing to vote with their caucus on any legislation. That could be repeated. Or they could call for a vote to remove Speaker McCarthy (R-CA) from his leadership position; you’ll recall from January how long it took to vote him into his position.
It is important to keep in mind that if Congress does not pass a CR, that means there is a lapse in funding authority and the government must shut down. That would be a worse-case scenario. To contextualize this for the research community, a government shutdown would mean researchers couldn’t access funds from their federal research grants or communicate with their research agency program officers. And, of course, any federal facilities, such as the national labs or governmental offices, would be closed until a funding bill was passed into law. It would create a serious disruption in the nation’s scientific enterprise; remember what happened the last time there was a shutdown.
It’s a complicated political game at the moment. There is agreement from both Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker McCarthy that a CR is needed to keep the government open. But anything passed will not be in effective for long, again showing the influence of this block of House Republicans. Unfortunately, the process will need to play out more before we know how FY24 will be closed out; that will likely not happen until the very end of the year (or even be pushed into next year). And the threat of a government shutdown will continue to be there. CRA will keep monitoring the situation and report on any new developments.