Following countless hours spent by the Obama Administration preparing the FY 2016 budget request and numerous House and Senate appropriations hearings and floor votes leading up to today’s start of the new fiscal year, the outcome - at least to this point – is a continuation of current funding levels for federal departments and agencies through mid-December.
The failure to enact new appropriations legislation before the start of the next fiscal year is not surprising as it is a standard operating procedure for the October 1 deadline to be missed. What is notable is that the short term funding measure was passed in time to avoid a shutdown that would have had an especially harmful impact on government activities that are not categorized as essential.
The Senate approved the short term funding resolution yesterday morning by making it part of another bill moving through the chamber. The vote was 78 bipartisan “yes” votes to 20 “no” votes that were cast by Republican senators.
The House vote yesterday afternoon was more partisan. The bill received 277 “yes” votes (91 Republican and 186 Democratic) and 151 “no” votes that were cast by Republican members. Playing a role in the passage of this bill was Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) recent decision to resign from the House later this month, enabling him to bring a bill to the floor that avoided partisan issues.
President Obama signed the measure last night. Under this legislation appropriations will continue at current levels through December 11 with relatively few exceptions for other than flat funding. Of note for the physical sciences community is a provision requested by the Office of Management and Budget allowing for variations in funding for “operations necessary to maintain the planned launch schedules for the Joint Polar Satellite System.” Congress has expressed much concern about the possibility of a gap in weather satellite information. See here and here. As has been the case in other short term funding resolutions, new starts for projects are generally prohibited.
While the passage of this short term funding bill was largely uneventful despite deep controversy about federal funding of Planned Parenthood, the lack of drama in yesterday’s actions may not be mirrored in December. President Obama and congressional Democrats have repeatedly called for changes in tight FY 2016 spending limits that they characterize as unrealistic. This sentiment is also shared by some key Republicans, particularly those involved in the appropriations process. Discussions are now underway on possible modifications to the 2011 law setting spending caps for FY 2016 and FY 2017. Making this even more difficult is the need to raise the debt limit, which also must occur this fall to prevent a default of federal financial obligations. No one is predicting how this will all turn out.