CHN: Appropriations: Stop-Gap Spending Bill Needed to Avert Government Shutdown

Programs that need annual appropriations will run out of money around the end of the federal fiscal year – September 30.  Nevertheless, Congress will not have completed work on most appropriations bills by this deadline.  Shutting down WIC offices, Head Start programs, passport offices, national parks, etc. is never popular, especially not in an election year.  So, Congress is expected to enact a temporary spending measure to provide continued funding at least until Congress returns from its election-time recess.  The stop-gap spending bill is called a continuing resolution (CR).
By failing to enact appropriations bills in a timely manner, members of Congress will go home to campaign at the end of September without demonstrating to constituents their level of support for many of the services the federal government provides.  Many citizens will be seeking their representatives’ or senators’ views on human needs programs prior to Election day, but will be unable to hold members accountable for votes that have not yet occurred.

The Labor-HHS-Education spending bills approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for FY 2007 have not yet reached the floor of either body.  Neither version provides funding adequate to prevent cuts below FY 2005 levels, although majorities in both the House and Senate would favor preventing cuts.  The Senate voted 73-27 in favor of adding $7 billion to Labor-HHS-Education programs on March 16 ( )  Now, Senators Specter (R-PA) and Harkin (D-IA), the sponsors of the March 16 amendment, are circulating a letter to their colleagues that asks the Senate leadership to add $2 billion to the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill so that it matches the level approved in March.   Asking the 73 Senators who voted in favor of the March amendment to sign this letter is another way of seeking accountability over promises of adequate funding.

The Continuing Resolution.  Congress may demonstrate an initial lack of support by enacting a continuing resolution that sets temporary spending potentially lower than current levels.  Last year, instead of simply continuing then current spending levels, Congress enacted a continuing resolution that required programs to spend at the lowest of several alternatives – current year (at that time, the FY 2005 approved levels), or the House- or Senate-passed appropriations bills.  (See Human Needs Report, September 30, 2005:  There is growing speculation that Congress may take a similar approach this year.  If it does so, many more programs will experience cuts than if Congress simply opted to continue spending temporarily at FY 2006 (current year) levels.  In a CHN analysis of 73 of the programs funded under the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, only 14 would not be funded lower than FY 2006 levels if Congress required the lowest of current year, House or Senate Appropriations Committees’ proposed funding.  The remaining 59 programs would be cut below current spending.  Click here for more information.

It is not yet known for how long the CR would apply, although one draft reportedly would last for three months.  At minimum, Congress would have to extend spending through mid- to late-November, when it returns for the post-election lame duck session.  The longer the CR lasts, the more agencies are forced to plan for year-long program reductions.

Budget and Appropriations
Policy Analyses and Research