Congress was able to pass a continuing resolution (CR) on September 30, the final day of fiscal year (FY) 2015, within hours of a deadline that would result in a government shutdown. However, the CR simply kicks the can to December 11, the new deadline for coming to a final agreement on FY 2016 appropriations. While policymakers have provided themselves an additional 10 weeks to complete work on the annual spending bills, the path to the finish line remains unclear, complicated further by recent events like the announcement from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) of his retirement at the end of October and the upcoming Republican leadership elections. In addition, the Treasury Department announced last week that the federal government is expected to reach its borrowing limit (“debt limit”) by November 5, several weeks earlier than originally expected. These developments, coupled with real-time negotiations on a larger two-year budget deal, make for a challenging chess match that promises to continue well into December, if not longer. Observers fear that the real chance for a government shutdown will occur in December when the stakes for a budget deal are that much higher.
What’s the likely outcome? It’s anyone’s guess at this point. However, there are several scenarios that could take shape in the coming weeks, including (but certainly not limited to): a grand budget bargain that raises caps on discretionary spending similar to the bipartisan budget deal struck two years ago, which would provide some relief to federal agencies and programs that have been feeling the pinch in recent years; a year-long CR that would fund the federal government at FY 2015 levels for the balance of FY 2016, keeping sequestration in place for another year; or a government shutdown that eventually forces action on one of the aforementioned scenarios. Check out COSSA’s funding updates, policy statements, and letters for a refresher on the latest developments impacting federal agencies and programs of interest to the COSSA community.