IN classic fashion, Congress again waited until the last possible day to enact a spending bill to keep the government funded.
The Senate passed the 10-week continuing resolution (CR) by a vote of 78-20 last Wednesday morning. That same afternoon, the House passed the CR by a vote of 277-151, with all Democrats and more than a third of Republicans voting to keep the government operating.
The CR funds the government under the fiscal 2015 law through Dec. 11, 2015.
With this action, Congress will now be tasked with either passing another CR at that time, working on individual appropriations bills or developing a new omnibus appropriations bill.
While CRs generally extend all government funding at current levels, they can contain "anomalies." These are provisions that are added for one reason or another to change policy, increase or decrease funding for specific accounts or extend expiring programs.
For instance, Section 109 affects all government agencies and has the effect of limiting the number of loans the Farm Service Agency can issue during the duration of the CR. Fall and winter are when most farmers need loans to prepare for the next season.
In Section 116, the CR increases funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to cover higher food package costs.
The CR also acts as a de facto extension of the programs contained in the Child Nutrition Act, which would have expired Sept. 30. This differs from previous times when Congress passed stand-alone extensions of the law. This extension puts child nutrition and school meals into the mix of year-end mega-negotiations and could actually improve the act's chances for passage this calendar year, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
"Between now and Dec. 11, House and Senate appropriators will be negotiating final funding levels for fiscal 2016. However, they will do so in the shadow of the larger debate around increasing spending caps, raising the debt ceiling, filling a gap in mandatory funding for highway and infrastructure improvements, extending tax breaks and renewing and improving the Child Nutrition Act, among other major issues. It is not at all clear how the various pieces will come together," the coalition said.
If Congress and the White House are unable to reach a grand bargain that addresses the spending caps, debt ceiling and other issues, Congress may end up passing a second extension of fiscal 2015 funding levels as opposed to an omnibus package.