The new fiscal year begins on October 1 and the Senate has yet to vote—even at the subcommittee or committee level—on any of the 12 regular appropriations bills. Over in the House of Representative, 10 of the 12 appropriations bills have been finished.
This current situation means a continuing resolution (CR) with few substantive provisions is likely to keep the federal government operating. The length of the CR is uncertain. It might expire at the end of the calendar year or after the inauguration. If history provides any lessons, the CR discussions will go down to the last minute and will then pass on a voice vote. Neither party appears to want a government shutdown.
The agreement to fund the federal government, however, reached an impasse when many Democrats refused to support a $30 billion boost for farmers.
This CR extends funding of federal departments and agencies at the current year's level beyond the end of the federal fiscal year on September 30. Senators would then be able to return to their home states to campaign for the final few weeks before the general election on November 3.
Republican Senators appear to have little hope that congressional and White House negotiators will return to the table and complete another COVID-19 stimulus package prior to the November elections. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will not accept anything less than a $2.2 trillion package and the Trump administration is reluctant to go above $1.5 trillion.
Continuing Resolution: Budget Priorities
White House and congressional leaders want a clean CR to avoid adding controversial policy riders that might upend passage, including the National Flood Insurance Program.
This CR is in addition to any funding to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic; wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington; hurricanes in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas; and a derecho windstorm in Iowa. Congress will likely have to provide some disaster aid included in the CR.
The Senate is scheduled to return to Washington, DC, after the elections on November 9. The House will gavel in on November 16. Congress has scheduled about 24 legislative days until they wrap-up and close the 116th session toward the end of the year.
Without a doubt, Congress has left a lot of work to do in the waning days of the session. And the outcome of the November elections will definitely have an impact on how Congress completes its unfinished business. Some of the issues remaining include:
- All 12 appropriations bills funding federal programs for FY 2021 totaling $626.5 billion in discretionary nondefense spending and $694.6 billion in defense spending.
- Extension of the expiring Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act that funds infrastructure investment.
- Reauthorization of water infrastructure (e.g., dredging ports, repairing aging drinking water and wastewater systems, irrigation systems, navigability of inland waterways, floodwater protection, water storage, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances [PFAS] contamination).
- Ensuring adequate funding of U.S. Department of Agriculture Commodity Credit Corporation for continuing the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
- Fixing this year’s long financially ailing U.S. Postal Service.
- Extending technical Medicare restrictions on telehealth to accommodate the rapid surge in use during COVID-19.
- Resolving the high cost of healthcare and surprise medical bills by setting benchmark payment rates for healthcare plans that reimburse health providers.
Doug Farquhar is the director of Government Affairs at the National Environmental Health Association in Denver, Colorado.