Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution states in part that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by law…”. On 28 September, 2016, on its last legislative day ahead of this year’s protracted electoral season, Congress upheld this almost sacred constitutional responsibility by passing H.R. 5325, with overwhelming bipartisan support, to sustain Federal government operations through 9 December, 2016.
The legislation additionally provides over $1.5 billion in emergency funding to combat the outbreak of the Zika virus and to support those states recently impacted by natural disasters. More specifically, this legislation also provides full funding for the entirety of fiscal year 2017 for the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as the needed military construction requirements for the Department of Defense.
It is reassuring that the care of our Nation’s veterans and the physical infrastructure of our Nation’s defense facilities, central to our military readiness, will not be ignored or overwhelmed by electoral politics. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments will also continue, Federal agencies can avoid furloughs, vital homeland security programs will continue, and crucial military needs both home and abroad will, hopefully, be minimally impacted.
Though necessary to avert a Federal government shutdown, governing by continuing resolution (CR) has regrettably become the norm, despite it being widely viewed as the least desirable legislative authority by the Congress. However, a CR does still provide the Congress its constitutional authority to exercise its oversight of Executive Branch spending.
Ultimately, the Congress has been able to pass omnibus spending measures that have the effect of providing specific budget authority to every agency of the Federal government, much like the passage of individual appropriations bills would provide. Again, as we’ve now passed the first few days of fiscal year 2017, an omnibus package remains the preferred option over any extension of the CR. However, the confluence of this year’s Presidential election cycle with so few legislative days left on the Congressional calendar suggests a real challenge in coming to a bicameral, bipartisan agreement on fiscal year 2017 spending.
The current CR expires on 9 December, 2016, so additional action by the Congress must happen by then. But, what remains in question is whether or not an omnibus package is achievable or if the CR will simply be extended, perhaps until March, 2017, if not for the entire fiscal year ending 30 September, 2017. Any CR extension that would extend beyond January’s inauguration would have the effect of allowing the newly elected 45th President of the United States to immediately set his/her priorities for the remainder of fiscal year 2017 and beyond.