Continuing Resolution – Not Whether but How Long?

Congress is almost certain to pass a stopgap spending bill – a Continuing Resolution or CR – to keep the government in operation after the end of the fiscal year on September 30th.  Although the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have both worked through all of the FY 16 funding bills, not all of the measures have seen Floor action, and none have been sent to the President for signature.  Further, the White House has signaled that any such forwarded measures would likely be vetoed.  At issue are the spending caps signed into law several years ago that set statutory limits on discretionary spending through 2021, combined with across-the-board cuts to select mandatory programs (sequester) to reduce the national debt.

Congress returns from the Summer recess at the end of the first week in September.  This leaves only three weeks to achieve consensus on a funding strategy — an unlikely outcome.  So, the question now becomes not whether, but rather, how long would a CR extend?  Capitol Hill insiders speculate that it could be less than 30 days to align with the expiration of the highway bill on October 29th.  Others believe that it could run up until the beginning of the Congressional Thanksgiving Recess or possibly extend through December 18th — the last date on which both chambers are scheduled to be in session.  No one, however, believes that a CR would last beyond the end of the calendar year.