Fedweek

Both chambers of Congress are now in session for the first time since late July, facing a September 30 deadline on agency funding as the current fiscal year expires.

As has been the pattern for many years, Congress has made only limited progress on the dozen regular appropriations bills, although both the House and Senate have tied together and passed a number of them in bundles designed to make them easier to enact. However, with working time short—a recess already has been scheduled for the third week of the month—it’s questionable whether Congress can finish work on many, if any, of the regular spending bills before the deadline.

The most common response in this situation is to temporarily extend current policies and spending levels, with some exceptions, while work continues on a budget for the new fiscal year. In this case, that might mean an extension beyond the November elections, since Congress plans to work only the first two weeks of October before recessing again for the final campaign phase.

Another complication is the potential for a deadlock of the sort that caused a two-week partial government shutdown in 2013, and several brief shutdowns earlier this year. Warnings of such a showdown over border security have been circulating for months, and the budget can be a vehicle for addressing numerous other controversial issues.

Congress has shown no signs of actively considering the administration’s budgetary proposals regarding federal employee benefits. Those included requiring higher employee contributions toward retirement, basing future retirement benefits on a high-five salary figure, reducing retiree COLAs, combining sick and annual leave into one category, and more. The House Budget Committee did pass a measure calling for savings and suggesting such steps, but that measure has not advanced any farther. None of the spending bills being considered contain such changes.