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TO BE CONTINUED: Congress Passes Continuing Resolution to Keep Government Running, Buys Time to Pass Appropriations Bills

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“It’s really hypothetical to try to predict what is going to happen in December. If we pick up a lot of seats, there won’t be a lot of desire to do much around here, except get to the next Congress.”

Because it failed to pass any of the twelve annual appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, Congress has resorted to a continuing resolution, which will maintain funding for programs in the amount that they received in the prior fiscal year until the resolution expires on December 3. This means that programs such as Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation Fund will not receive funding in the current continuing resolution because they were funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and did not receive funding through the regular Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations process.

Because the continuing resolution expires on December 3, lawmakers will not have much time to move the appropriations bills during the post-election, lame-duck session, which is scheduled to start on November 15. Given this tight schedule, it is unlikely that Congress will have time to move each of the appropriations bills individually. In fact, observers say that Democratic appropriators are considering a twelve-bill omnibus bill to fund the government in 2011. Such a bill could carry a price tag of more than $1 trillion. Another option is to enact an additional continuing resolution that would keep the government running into early 2011, giving Congress even more time to pass the appropriations bills.

Complicating matters is the uncertainty surrounding the congressional elections. On one hand, Democrats hope to pass the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bills during the lame-duck session while they still have control of Congress. Republicans, meanwhile, would like to delay any spending decisions until 2011 when they might control one or both chambers of Congress.

“You have to wait for the election,” Judd Gregg (R-NH), ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee and a senior appropriator, toldCQ Weekly. “It’s really hypothetical to try to predict what is going to happen in December. If we pick up a lot of seats, there won’t be a lot of desire to do much around here, except get to the next Congress.”

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