Another government shutdown averted

Another government shutdown averted

Showdown ahead on budget, Child Nutrition Act, highway bill and more in final months of congressional work for the year.

In classic fashion, Congress again waited until the last possible day to enact a spending bill to keep the government funded.

The Senate passed the 10-week continuing resolution (CR) on Wednesday morning by a vote of 78-20. On Wednesday afternoon, the House passed the CR by a vote of 277-151, with all Democrats and over a third of Republicans voting to not shut down the government.

The CR funds the government under the FY 2015 law through December 11, 2015.

With this action, Congress will now be tasked with either passing another CR at that time, working on individual appropriations bills, or developing a new omnibus appropriations bill.

While CRs generally extend all government funding at current levels, they can contain “anomalies.” These are provisions that are added for one reason or another to change policy, increase or decrease funding for specific accounts, and extend expiring programs.

For instance, Section 109 impacts all government agencies and has the effect of limiting the number of loans that the Farm Service Agency can issue during the duration of the CR. Fall and winter is when most farmers need loans to prepare for the next season.

In Section 116, the CR also increases funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to cover higher food package costs.

The CR also acts as a de facto extension of the programs contained in the Child Nutrition Act, which would have expired Sept. 30. This differs from previous extensions of the Child Nutrition Act, where Congress passed stand-alone extensions of the Act. This extension puts child nutrition and school meals into the mix of a year-end mega negotiations and could actually improve the Act’s chances for passage in this calendar year, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

“Between now and December 11, House and Senate appropriators will be negotiating final funding levels for FY 2016. However, they will do so in the shadow of the larger debate around increasing spending caps, raising the debt ceiling, filling a gap in mandatory funding for highway and infrastructure improvements, extending tax breaks, and renewing and improving the Child Nutrition Act, among other major issues. It is not at all clear how the various pieces will come together,” NSAC said.

If Congress and the White House are unable to reach a grand bargain that addresses the spending caps, debt ceiling, and other issues, Congress may end up passing a second extension of FY 2015 funding levels as opposed to an omnibus package.

Update: Without any new budget agreements, USDA has said it will move forward with sequestration to reduce government spending. Farmer payments will be reduced 6.8%. Different percentages up to 7.3% were considered for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 crop years.

USDA will begin making 2014 crop year payments in the next several weeks.

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