Congress Avoids Government Shutdown, Approves Funding

For next nine months, a repeat of last year’s 16-day government-wide shutdown will be avoided. Even if an agreement cannot be reached for Homeland Security by the February deadline, only the non-essential activities of DHS will be affected.

Over the weekend, lawmakers avoided a government shutdown by passing a $1.1 billion Omnibus appropriations bill. Nicknamed the “CRomnibus,” the spending bill is unique in containing a continuing resolution (CR), which temporarily maintains current spending, for the Department of Homeland Security, and full appropriations bills for the remaining 11 subcommittees.

The Department of Homeland Security will be funded at its 2014 level through February 27, 2015, at which point Congress will have to pass another spending bill to prevent a shutdown of the department. The Omnibus bill authorized spending for the rest of the government through September 30, 2015.

The Senate passed the Omnibus spending bill by a bipartisan 56-40 vote on Saturday night. The House had passed the bill by a 219-206 vote two days earlier, and President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law.

The overall appropriation levels were already set for this fiscal year by the two-year budget compromise negotiated by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) last December. The Omnibus abided by these agreed-upon caps for defense and nondefense appropriations spending. However, next year’s budget negotiations are expected to be more challenging. The Murray-Ryan agreement expires in FY2016, and lawmakers will need to decide whether to allow the automatic budget cuts known as “sequestration.”

This is hardly the end of the gridlock that has become business as usual in Washington. In the next year alone, lawmakers will need to raise the debt ceiling, which will be reinstated on February 7; find a funding solution for the Highway Trust Fund, projected to run out by the end of May; and decide the future of Export-Import Bank, which will close its doors if Congress doesn’t act in June.