October 1 marks the beginning of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, yet the U.S. Congress has not passed a single spending bill for the new fiscal year, making it necessary to pass a continuing resolution (CR), a temporary funding mechanism that would avoid a government shutdown. Complicating matters is a decision by the U.S. House of Representatives on September 20 to pass a CR that would fund the government at current levels through December 15, but eliminate spending for the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare.” The measure was sent to the U.S. Senate where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said it will not pass.
“Republicans are simply postponing for a few days the inevitable choice they must face: pass a clean bill to fund the government, or force a shutdown,” Reid said. “I have said it before, but it seems to bear repeating: the Senate will not pass any bill that defunds or delays Obamacare.”
The most likely path forward for the CR in the Senate would be to remove the ACA provision from the bill, pass it, and send it back to the House. At some point in the process, however, Reid would need sixty votes to invoke cloture and overcome attempts to delay the bill’s consideration through a filibuster. Democrats only control fifty-four votes in the Senate, meaning at least six Republicans would need to support such a plan.
Were the Senate to send a CR to the House without the ACA provision, it is unknown if the House would pass it before October 1 or allow the government to shutdown. Already some government observers say to expect a shutdown for at least a few overnight hours while the two parties work together on an agreement; others think the shutdown could extend for a few days to a week. Ultimately, most seem to think that some combination of House Republicans and House Democrats will come together to pass a CR without the ACA provision. Whether an agreement will come before the government shuts down or after is the major question.
Even if Congress agrees on a CR that funds the government through December 15, there is no guarantee that Republicans and Democrats can come up with a more permanent solution by that date, meaning that the nation could be experiencing these same issues come Christmas.
In addition to the disagreement over ACA, the House and the Senate also differ on the overall spending limit for FY 2014. Under the spending plan adopted by the House, the overall spending cap is set at $967 billion, which is $91 billion less than the $1.058 trillion cap adopted by the Senate. This large disparity in spending caps affects all twelve appropriations bills, but none more than the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill. The House would fund the bill at $122 billion, compared to $164 billion in the Senate. To match the House’s level, the Senate would need to cut funding for every program included in its bill by an average of 25 percent.
Of the $164 billion, the Senate would devote $69.2 billion, which includes spending on Pell Grants, to the U.S. Department of Education under an appropriations bill that the Senate Appropriations Committee passed on July 11. More information on the bill is available at https://all4ed.org/articles/vol13no10a/.
Proposed funding levels for individual education programs are available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget14/14action.pdf. The House has not made public proposed funding levels for individual federal education programs.
Complicating budget matters even further is the debt ceiling. Legislation must be passed to increase the debt ceiling by mid-October or the United States will default on its debt, according to U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew. House Republican leaders may tie an increase in the debt ceiling to a one-year delay in the implementation of ACA—a stipulation that would face opposition from the White House and Senate Democrats.