As a potential government shutdown creeps slowly up on Congress, the Senate has missed a deadline its leadership set this week to pass funding past March 27.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had said he wanted the Senate version of the continuing resolution, a proposed House bill to fund federal government operations, passed by Friday.
Instead, Senate staffers will work this weekend trying to sort through about 100 amendments that weren’t on the House version tacked onto the bill by senators.
Reid said on Thursday night that he hoped that voting on the revised version of the resolution would take place on Monday in the Senate. That version of the bill would need to go back to the House for approval or changes.
Congress is running up against two deadlines to pass the bill, which funds government operations until October 2013.
One deadline is a hard deadline: March 27. After that date, nonessential government agencies, such as the National Park Service, will close down.
The other deadline is a two-week recess for Congress for Passover and Easter, scheduled to start on March 25.
If the House and Senate were to observe the official holiday break between March 25 and April 5, that would give them six working days, including two weekend days, to reach a compromise on government funding—if the Senate can pass its own resolution on Monday.
And if the past is any indication, the vote could come close to the deadline, if it happens by March 27.
Congress couldn’t meet a January 1, 2013, deadline to pass legislation to avoid the “fiscal cliff” and needed overtime to pass a compromise that raised taxes and put off a debt ceiling deadline.
Congress also couldn’t reach a deadline to avoid the sequester, across-the-board budget cuts that affect most government agencies.
Among the amendments added by the senators are five resolutions on financial aid for Egypt.
One amendment that won’t go forward is a plan to spend $120 million in Guam for civilian infrastructure.
Both the House and Senate versions keep the overall spending cuts triggered by the sequester. The House version allows defense-related departments to decide how to make the cuts, instead of forcing them make across-the-board cuts to each department by the same percentage.
The Senate version extends flexibility to make cuts to agencies involved in agriculture, homeland security, commerce, justice and science.
So some agencies and workers could see their potential furloughs end, while other could see steeper cuts, depending on decisions made after the continuing resolution is passed.
The alternative would be a government shutdown starting after March 27.
All nonessential federal government operations will stop. For the public, National Park Service sites will be closed, as well as national museums and monuments. Applications for passports and visas can’t be processed. Hotline calls to the National Institutes of Health will go unanswered.
Hundreds of thousands of government workers will also be furloughed.
President Barack Obama, Reid, and House Speaker John Boehner have all publicly said they want to avert a shutdown at almost any cost.
Scott Bomboy is editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.
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