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Congress Has Three Weeks to Act on Federal Budget

September 3, 2014
On Monday, September 8th, Congress returns to Washington after a five week August recess and only three weeks before the fiscal year ends. Republicans and Democrats in both chambers have limited time to work out a funding deal before the September 30th deadline, or risk another government shutdown only weeks before the November elections.

The current fiscal year ends on September 30, 2014, meaning Congress has to pass a funding bill by midnight that day to ensure the government has funding to continue to operate. Neither chamber is far enough along in the budget process to expect that a full package of appropriations bills could be agreed to and voted on by the deadline, so it is expected that Congress will pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR). Before leaving for the August break, the House had passed only seven of twelve appropriations bills and the Senate had yet to pass any. Any CR passed this month is expected to fund the government through the first few months of fiscal year 2015.

With elections approaching in November, neither party is likely to risk shutting down the government. Last year, the 16-day partial shutdown upset voters on both sides of the aisle and Members will not want to return home to their districts after failing to keep the federal government operating. The session this month is shortened both by a longer than usual August recess and a district work period in the third week of September. The House calendar indicates only ten working days between when Members return to Washington and the September 30th deadline. The Senate will most likely follow suit, leaving very limited time for both chambers to pass the necessary CR.

In early October, Members of Congress will go back to their districts to campaign until the November mid-term elections. They are expected to return for at least a short lame duck session in November or December, but the dates of such a session are not yet known. With any luck, ten working days will be enough to avoid a damaging shutdown, and whatever compromise is reached will set the stage for restoring a budgetary process that provides more stability for essential government programs.