Capitol Correspondence - 08.29.23

Stalemate in Congress: Budget Deadlines and Partisan Divides

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US Capitol Building in background with black metal fencing that surrounds the capitol dome in the foreground.
Photo credit Patrick Semansky/AP Photo
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Congress may still be on recess, but angst over a potential government shutdown continues to grow. When members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate return to Washington, DC in September, they must immediately get back to work to pass spending bills for fiscal year (FY) 2024 before the September 30 deadline. This may not sound like it should be a monumental task, but the partisan divides within Congress, as well as ideological differences between the two chambers, are ensuring the process will not go smoothly.

When the debt ceiling negotiations from earlier this year ended with an agreement between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to lift the debt ceiling until January 2025, part of that agreement also addressed spending levels for FY 2024. Although there was agreement on the spending caps for FY 2024, there has been disagreement over whether those spending caps represent the amount that Congress will authorize to spend for FY 2024, or whether the caps are meant to be a ceiling for federal spending. House Republicans have interpreted the caps as a ceiling, with appropriations bills in the House allocating spending far below the levels agreed to by President Biden and Speaker McCarthy. In the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans agree that the funding levels must be higher. This sets up the House and Senate to be in conflict with one another in September.

Although a traditional tactic Congress uses to avoid a government shutdown is to pass a temporary continuing resolution (CR) to give members more time to hash out their differences and find agreement, a recent statement from the House Freedom Caucus indicated that its members would not support any CR. With growing threats like these, Speaker McCarthy (R-CA), as well as House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will have to work very hard to find an agreement to keep the government open past September 30.