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Congress and the White House are in the familiar position of balancing the opportunity to achieve spending and policy priorities against the threat of a partial government shutdown by holding out for too much for too long.

With just over two weeks to go before the December 11 expiration of temporary spending authority for federal agencies, there have been conflicting signals about prospects for enacting a budgetary wrap-up bill called a continuing resolution.


Work can’t formally resume until Congress returns from a week-long recess, a period in which partisan feelings have if anything hardened following the elections and which both see as a last opportunity to act under the current White House and congressional lineup.

In such situations it’s common for some members of Congress to seek to attach language to the larger bill, knowing it is a “must-pass” and that afterward no substantial legislation likely will be passed for at least a month. That commonly leads to the kind of brinksmanship that can bring the government right up to the point of a shutdown, and sometimes past it.

The House will begin negotiations starting with several positions on federal employees including language that would effectively override the administration’s executive order restricting bargaining, for example. The Senate meanwhile has proposed a federal pay freeze for 2021, in contrast to the 1 percent raise the White House proposed and which the House would allow to take effect by default.

Also likely to be in the mix are various pandemic relief proposals of the sort that have been deadlocked since the spring.

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Congress and the WH have until Dec 11 to strike a spending deal or another temporary extension to avoid a 3rd government shutdown in the past 4 years – with a surge in new Covid-19 cases raising the stakes and tensions high following the presidential election. Here’s a primer on the impact of a shutdown (or a partial one like we had in 2018-2019) on pay and benefits for affected employees.

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