Congress Averts Government Shutdown

On November 16, President Biden signed a second continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government open past the November 17 deadline of the initial CR. The stopgap bill holds funding at fiscal year (FY) 2023 levels with a “laddered” deadline. Agencies in the Agriculture, Energy and Water, Military Construction-VA, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bills will be funded through January 19, 2024. The remaining eight bills, which include the budgets for a majority of defense and nondefense R&D agencies (ARPA-H, IES, NIH, and NSF) have funding through February 2, 2024.  This new approach (H.R. 6363) was introduced by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and passed in a bipartisan vote of 336-95 with the help of Democrats – and the dismay of the House Freedom Caucus.  

In theory, this approach will make for more manageable workloads and increase Congresses ability to meet these deadlines. That sounds reasonable except for the fact that year after year, despite having plenty of advance notice, Congress has failed time and again to meet the annual September 30 deadline. 

One silver lining for congressional staffers is that they can make holiday plans this year. For at least the past decade, Congress has timed deadlines with the holidays thinking that will force an agreement. Another twist to this outcome is that in a typical year, flat funding is disappointing. This year, given the budget deal in the spring and the agreed upon caps for FY 2024, flat funding might be the best that some agencies might hope for in FY 2024 funding.  

Given the discord in the House, it is difficult to see a path forward to avoid a shutdown. One question on everyone’s mind is if the Speaker will keep his job. House conservatives were fuming that Speaker Johnson turned to Democrats to pass the CR to keep the government open. When Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) took that approach ahead of the September 30th deadline, it cost him the Speakership.  

Speaker Johnson had aspired to pass GOP spending bills for Labor, Health and Human Services and Commerce, Justice, Science – bills that fund bulk of behavioral and brain science. However, those plans were shattered when House conservatives thwarted votes in retaliation for the process that led to passing CR. The bills contain numerous concerning riders and amendments including prohibiting NSF from funding Trust and Authenticity in Communications Systems; funding for a number of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and trainings; and forbidding discrimination against any person with a “sincerely held religious belief, or moral conviction, that marriage is, or should be recognized as, a union of one man and one woman.” 

  •  Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2024 (H.R. 5893
  • Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2024 (H.R. 5894

In the Senate, Democrats — and many Republicans — oppose any additional cuts to these critical budgets, arguing that the House should honor the debt deal struck between the White House and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier this year.