FEDweek

Shutdown Rumbling Getting Louder

The chances of a partial government shutdown starting October 1 have been increasing even as Congress has remained on its summer recess, with President Trump raising the prospect several times in recent days and no signs of advancement toward a budget agreement.

Congress has passed none of the 12 regular appropriations bills for the new budget year, although the House has approved a package of four of them and has raised the prospect of bundling the rest into one other bill. However, there is little expectation of Congress enacting such measures in time, making a temporary funding extension the best hope for preventing unpaid furloughs of hundreds of thousands of employees while the remainder would stay at work but unpaid for the meantime.

As happened in the last partial shutdown, in 2013, a major policy issue stands in the way of even a temporary extension—then, it was funding for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, now, it is funding for the administration’s proposed border wall. Further, the OMB recently projected that the spending levels in the House-passed bill would require “sequestration” of the sort that also occurred in 2013, putting many of the same employees who would be sent home in a shutdown on unpaid furloughs—for which they were not later paid then and likely would not be paid in a recurrence.

Also pending is the need to raise the federal debt ceiling by around the end of September. Both the end of a fiscal year and the approach of the debt limit have frequently been used as leverage for policy and spending decisions that often go down to the wire.

Also now to be decided is funding for disaster relief in response to Hurricane Harvey. In the past such funds have been approved without a required reduction in spending elsewhere, but some members of Congress typically push to offset the added costs, delaying final enactment if nothing else.