Six Weeks to Shutdown?

August 21, 2015

With no federal budget in place, and tough rhetoric from the White House, Congress could be facing another shutdown this fall.  

The administration is threatening to veto any legislation that exceeds federal budget caps. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are at odds over the appropriate levels of domestic and defense spending.  

When Congress returns from the August recess on Sep. 8, lawmakers will have only 10 legislative working days to avoid a shutdown. What options do lawmakers have?  

Pass a budget within constraints imposed by the Budget Control Act

The Budget Control Act, (BCA), a compromise deal reached by lawmakers, imposes strict, arbitrary budget caps on federal spending. Any budget that exceeds the caps triggers sequestration, a meat axe series of budget cuts.   

Sequestration is particularly damaging to the defense department. If triggered, DoD will have to find $20 billion to cut from its annual budget next year. Defense leaders have said that sequestration is one of the biggest threats to national security.  

Pass a Continuing Resolution

A Continuing Resolution (CR) can keep the government operating at last year's funding levels while lawmakers continue to work on a compromise. CRs are commonly used to ensure uninterrupted operation of government functions, and can last anywhere from a few hours to an entire fiscal year.   

While helpful, a CR limits federal agencies from developing long-term budget plans and strategy. Ironically, CRs often result in cost overruns and government delays, the very things lawmakers try to avoid by passing them.  

Craft another Murray-Ryan deal

Some lawmakers have expressed a desire for another Murray-Ryan budget deal. The deal, named after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), resulted in the Bipartisan Budget Act. That legislation raised the budget caps for 2014 and 2015 in return for extending sequestration to 2023.   

That temporary fix is set to expire on Sep 30.   

While defense planners were thankful for the deal at the time, it simply kicked the can and contained a devastating provision to reduce military retirement. Due to aggressive advocacy by MOAA and its partners, Congress repealed the cuts to military retirement in 2014.  

"At this point, the prospect of securing a FY16 budget prior to Oct. 1 looks very dim," said MOAA's Deputy Director of Government Relations, Col. Phil Odom, USAF (Ret). "But it's imperative that Congress engage in reasonable, bipartisan dialogue when they return in September."