President Signs Bill Extending Federal Funding for Six Months

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Publication date: 
28 September 2012

Continued  operations of the federal government are assured with the signature of  President Barack Obama on a bill passed by bipartisan majorities in Congress  that largely maintains current funding levels through March 27, 2013.   The President signed the bill today; the new  fiscal year starts on Monday, October 1.

Enactment  of this legislation is a good news/bad news story.  On one hand, it demonstrates cooperation  between Democratic and Republican Members of Congress.  Passage of this bill avoided the shutdown or  near-shutdown of the federal government experienced in previous years.  At the same time, this stop gap bill is further  evidence of the breakdown of much of the appropriations process.  The House Appropriations Committee approved eleven  of twelve appropriations bills, as did the Senate Appropriations Committee.  But only six of the House bills were passed  on the floor, and none of the Senate bills saw floor action.  Despite expressed intentions earlier this  year that at least some of the appropriations bills would be passed before the  start of the new fiscal year, a variety of political factors prevented even a  single bill from being enacted.

With  few exceptions, current funding is extended for the next six months under this  bill.  The potential impact of flat  funding on departments and agencies varies when compared to the appropriators’  recommendations in their bills that were never enacted. Total FY 2013 NASA  funding would, when adjusted for program content, fall from the current level  under both bills.   The House and Senate  bills for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science recommended a decrease  of 1.5 percent and a 0.7 percent increase.   The appropriators’ recommendations for total funding for the Department  of Defense’s basic research programs were for increases of 0.2 and 0.7 percent.  Funding for the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering  were for flat funding and a decline of 0.4 percent.

Other  budgets could have increased more significantly under the House and Senate bills.  For the National Science Foundation, the  bills recommended increases of 3.4 and 4.3 percent.  The National Nuclear Security  Administration’s (NNSA) weapons activities program funding increases were 4.1  and 5.0 percent (more about this below.)   Recommended increases for the National Institute of Standards and  Technology were 10.0 and 10.6 percent.   The extent to which final FY 2013 funding levels will reflect these recommendations  is unknown.  Republican Members believe that  if their candidates prevail in the November election they will be in a stronger  position to reduce overall federal spending. 

Passage  of the continuing resolution, House Joint Resolution 117 occurred after only an  hour of debate on the House floor on September 13, by a vote of 329-91.  The bill received almost an identical number  of affirmative votes from Republicans and Democrats.  Seventy of the votes against the bill were  cast by Republican Members. 

In  commenting on the bill, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers  (R-KY) said:

“This  6-month continuing resolution, Mr. Speaker, will keep the government's doors  open and its wheels turning until March 27, 2013. It's a necessary bill that  ensures that the Congress is doing its job, even if this is not our preferred  way of going about doing it.” 

He  later added:

“This  CR is a good-faith effort to provide limited, but fair, funding for government  programs. It sticks with the agreement the House leadership made with the  Senate and the White House to continue government operations at the Budget  Control Act-approved level of $1.047 trillion, thereby avoiding the perils of a  threatened government shutdown.  This  legislation is very limited in scope. Funding levels have been held at rates  essentially consistent with the current fiscal year. It makes minor changes to  prevent detrimental or catastrophic or irreversible changes to Federal programs  and to ensure good government.”

Committee  Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA) offered similar remarks:

“While  I would prefer to be doing our regular appropriation bills, I support this  continuing resolution [CR]. H.J. Res. 117 avoids a government shutdown by continuing  the full range of Federal activities at last year's rate of operations, plus  six-tenths of 1 percent. The CR also preserves the agreement on spending levels  and the reforms in budgeting for disaster relief as set out in the Budget  Control Act.”

Later  in his remarks, he stated:

“I  am very disappointed that we have yet to enact a single FY13 bill in the  Congress even though we passed seven bills in the House of Representatives. I  know Chairman Rogers shares my disappointment. A CR is not a replacement for  the appropriations process. Federal agencies need much more direction than what  is provided in a CR, and I believe this measure serves to underscore the need  for timely, regular appropriation bills.”

The  Senate also passed the bill, but it required many more days of consideration  because of largely unrelated matters.   Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) commented:

“I  want my colleagues to know I support this measure even though it is far from  perfect. In fact, I would say it is not a good bill, but passing it is much  better than allowing the government to shut down over a lack of funding.   Continuing resolutions are not new. As some of  my colleagues are aware, I have served in this Senate for 49 years and 9 months.  During my tenure, this Congress has completed its work and enacted all of its  spending bills without needing a continuing resolution on only three occasions.  In 49 years, three times. This is not a record we should be proud of, but it  demonstrates how difficult it is to agree on funding for each of the thousands  of Federal programs that the Appropriations Committee reviews annually.  However, never before in history has the Congress passed a stopgap resolution  in September to fund the entire government for half the coming fiscal year. It  is unfortunate that it has come to this.”

Committee  Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS) spoke about missed opportunities to alter  funding:

“The  continuing resolution does not make reductions in programs for which the President  requested less money in fiscal year 2013, nor does it make cuts that have been  proposed by the Congress. Neither does the resolution increase funding for  programs Congress or the administration deemed to be high priorities, with a  few exceptions. The continuing resolution does not contain any new oversight  provisions to guide agencies, nor does it include any new riders to limit the  activities of the executive branch. In short, it puts the portion of government  that we call discretionary on automatic pilot. Enactment of this resolution  will, for the time being, avoid a disruptive government-shutdown fight.”  

He  later said:

“The  resolution represents a lost opportunity. We have lost the opportunity to  provide agencies with at least some certainty about funding for this fiscal  year. We have lost the opportunity to make informed judgments about which  programs are effective and deserving of additional resources and which programs  should be reformed or terminated.”

The  Senate voted early on the morning of Saturday, September 22 to pass this bill  by a vote of 62-30.  One of the votes  against passage was cast by a Democratic senator.  Eight senators did not vote.)

There  are a limited number of exceptions in the bill language providing funding above  current levels.  Additional money was  provided for NNSA’s weapons activities program and gave the National Oceanic  and Atmospheric Administration the flexibility “necessary to maintain the  planned launch schedules for the Joint Polar Satellite System and the  Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system.”

Members  will not return to Washington until after the election.  Confronting them and the next Congress will  be the January 2, 2013 automatic budget reductions to almost every department  and agency of up to 9.4 percent,  expiring tax rates,  and the national debt limit.  Congress  could act to pass final appropriations bills before the continuing resolution  expires or decide to continue the current level of federal funding throughout  the entire twelve months of FY 2013.   Until these issues are resolved, federal  program managers will be very cautious in their spending decisions since the  bill requires “the most limited funding action . . . shall be taken in order to  provide for continuation of projects and activities.”

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