Congress has returned from its holiday recess to face yet another deadline–this one midnight January 19–to prevent a partial government shutdown in the absence of an agreement to keep agencies funded.
The deadline is the latest in a series dating back to last year because Congress has not passed the regular appropriations bills for the fiscal year that started last October. The issues preventing action–either on those bills or on a catchall that would continue funding through September–remain in place.
Both parties are using the threat of a shutdown as leverage for their positions on several immigration issues, with health care and defense issues also thrown into the mix. Meetings are continuing on attempting to resolve those issues and raise previously-set overall ceilings on defense and non-defense spending.
A particular concern, particularly among federal employee organizations and congressional Democrats, is that a move will be made to offset increases with cuts elsewhere. That would raise the prospect of Congress considering yet again numerous ideas to degrade the value of federal benefits including health insurance and retirement, while requiring employees to pay more toward those benefits.
The repeated response to such deadlocks has been to enact another temporary extension of agency funding, largely at prior levels. However, time is running short before the next budgetary cycle must begin, and patience for that approach is wearing thin on Capitol Hill–and at agencies, most notably the Defense Department, which frequently complains about the inefficiencies of not being able to plan based on a long-term budget.
Many agencies already have issued updated shutdown contingency plans, which describe the functions that would remain open despite a funding lapse due to the nature of the work–and therefore which employees would be furloughed and which kept at work.