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Congress Passes Funding Bill in Final Hours of Fiscal Year

October 1, 2015

On Wednesday, September 30, the final day of fiscal year (FY) 2015, Congress passed a two-and-a-half month funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to extend existing funding levels and policy riders through December 11. At that time, Congress will once again face an expiration of government funding, and will need to pass new appropriations legislation for FY 2016 or a second extension of FY 2015 levels to avoid a government shutdown.

The Senate passed the 10-week CR on Wednesday morning by a vote of 78-20. On Wednesday afternoon, the House passed the CR by a vote of 277-151, with all Democrats and over a third of Republicans voting to not shut down the government.

The bill does not include a controversial amendment to defund Planned Parenthood. Prior to House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) surprise announcement last week that he will retire in October, it seemed likely that the government would shutdown on October 1. The most conservative wing of the House Republican Caucus had threatened to launch an effort to strip Boehner of his role as Speaker is he allowed a “clean” CR to move forward.

After announcing his upcoming resignation, Boehner worked with moderate Republicans and House Democrats to pass a bill without language to strip funding for Planned Parenthood. Boehner did allow for a vote on a separate resolution that would defund Planned Parenthood in the CR, but only on the condition that the Senate agrees to the resolution, which is very unlikely to happen.

The CR was quickly delivered to the President for his signature ahead of the midnight deadline. For the next 10 weeks, the funding levels and policy riders contained in the FY 2015 appropriations package will apply, with a few exceptions. While CRs generally extend all government funding at current levels, they can contain “anomalies.” These are provisions that are added for one reason or another to change policy, increase or decrease funding for specific accounts, and extend expiring programs.

In the case of the just-passed CR, there are a few anomalies impacting USDA:

  • Section 109 – Impacts all government agencies and has the effect of limiting the number of loans that FSA can issue during the duration of the CR. NSAC opposes this provision being included in the CR because the fall and winter is when most farmers need loans to prepare for the next season.
  • Section 116 – Increases funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to cover higher food package costs.
  • Section 135 – Appropriates $700 million in emergency funding for wildfire suppression activates and to refund other Forest Service accounts already raided to pay for firefighting activities.

Importantly, the CR also acts as a de facto extension of the programs contained in the Child Nutrition Act, which would have expired yesterday. This differs from previous extensions of the Child Nutrition Act, where Congress passed stand-alone extensions of the Act. This extension puts child nutrition and school meals into the mix of a year-end mega-negotiations and could actually improve the Act’s chances for passage in this calendar year. What would be unacceptable would be a full year extension rather than a short-term one, as that would signal little chance of having a new reauthorization until 2017 at the earliest, given the difficulty of passing major legislation in a presidential election year.

While a CR is certainly preferable to a shutdown, it puts a hold on the work that the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have been doing since March to finalize funding levels for FY 2016. You can visit our previous posts for detailed breakdowns of the levels and riders contained in the House agriculture appropriations bill and the Senate agriculture appropriations bill, both of which were passed earlier this year.

Between now and December 11, House and Senate appropriators will be negotiating final funding levels for FY 2016. However, they will do so in the shadow of the larger debate around increasing spending caps, raising the debt ceiling, filling a gap in mandatory funding for highway and infrastructure improvements, extending tax breaks, and renewing and improving the Child Nutrition Act, among other major issues. It is not at all clear how the various pieces will come together.

Senate Democrats have thus far opposed every FY 2016 appropriations bill passed by the Appropriations Committee because the bills conform to unrealistically low spending caps set in 2011. Those members, alongside the White House, will continue to push for higher spending caps in the final FY 2016 appropriations legislation. Many Republicans in the House and Senate are willing, and in some cases eager, to raise the caps for defense spending, but some oppose doing so for domestic spending.

If Congress and the White House are unable to reach a grand bargain that addresses the spending caps, debt ceiling, and other issues, Congress may end up passing a second extension of FY 2015 funding levels as opposed to an omnibus package. An extended CR would be the worst possible outcome for sustainable agriculture because it would prevent Congress from building upon successful programs and would extend and automatically increase the severe cuts to conservation programs included in FY 2015 appropriations legislation.

Categories: Budget and Appropriations

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