Another Countdown to Shutdown Underway As FY2014 Draws Near

Another Countdown to Shutdown Underway As FY2014 Draws Near

Fiscal Year 2014 begins exactly a week from today and there is still no end game in sight for the political wrangling to keep the government open.  The situation is unchanged from a day ago, or even a week ago, except that the deadline is closing in.

To keep the government operating after midnight September 30, the House and Senate must agree on a funding measure that President Obama is willing to sign into law.  All three must accept it.

The House passed a version of a FY2014 Continuing Resolution (CR) that includes a provision – defunding the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) — that it knew the Senate would not accept and the President would not sign.  Senate Democrats and enough Senate Republicans do not want a government shutdown and plan to pass a “clean” version of a CR that simply keeps the government operating at current levels.  The Senate bill reportedly will fund the government through November 15, not December 15 like the House bill because the Senate remains hopeful that the 12 regular appropriations bills can clear Congress and be signed into law before then.

A small faction of Senate Republicans — notably Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) — however, are determined to fight.   This afternoon Cruz began what is expected to be a marathon floor speech that seems a lot like a filibuster, though it is not a filibuster since it is not preventing the Senate from proceeding with legislative business.  Democrats reportedly have enough Republican votes to end a real filibuster if one were to materialize, which is considered highly unlikely.

At the moment, the Senate is expected to vote on a clean CR tomorrow afternoon, but the timing is subject to change.  The bill then must go back to the House where its fate is very uncertain.  Although the House Republican Leadership — Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) — both also do not want a government shutdown, they are struggling to maintain control of a sizable group of Republican members who are not concerned about shutting down the government, believing that they were elected to get rid of Obamacare.  (Defunding it does not repeal the law, however, it only keeps government agencies from spending money to implement it.)  The leadership reportedly is trying to convince them that the funding bill is not the place to wage that battle.

Threats of a government shutdown have become so common that it can be difficult to take any of this political drama seriously, but trying to guess what Congress will do is a perilous business.  For agencies like NASA, NOAA and DOD, it means trying to manage complex, long-term programs amidst continuing uncertainty.

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