Congress Staves Off Government Shutdown…for Now

Gary Blakeley / Shutterstock.com

The Senate on Thursday easily passed a short-term spending bill, clearing the way for the government to avoid a shutdown until at least mid-December.

The Senate’s passage by a vote of 73-22 follows the House approving on Wednesday the $1.01 trillion stopgap measure -- which funds agencies at their current spending levels through Dec. 11. The stopgap measure will now head to President Obama, who has indicated he will sign it.

“The administration appreciates that the House bill allows critical government functions to operate without interruption and avoids a damaging government shutdown,” the White House wrote in a statement of administration policy.

Federal employee advocates also expressed support for the continuing resolution, but said the short-term nature of the bill makes it difficult for agencies to carry out their missions.

“As we have seen over the past several years, a series of short-term, patchwork funding solutions are becoming the norm rather than the exception,” said the Federal-Postal Coalition, an amalgamation of more than 30 federal workforce groups. “Continuing resolutions tie the hands of managers and employees alike by limiting strategic planning and restricting resources to get the job done.”

In some respects, however, the CR was good news for federal workers. The stopgap bill is mum on President Obama’s request to grant federal employees a 1 percent, across-the-board pay raise in 2015, effectively allowing the pay bump to go through. Congress, which is set to recess this week until after the upcoming November election, will aim to pass an omnibus appropriations bill when it returns. Lawmakers could theoretically block the pay raise at that time, though they have yet to show any interest in doing so.

The CR will extend the charter of the Export-Import Bank -- set to expire Sept. 30 -- through June 2015. Bank officials said they would not have been forced to shut their doors come Oct. 1 in the absence of congressional action, but the agency’s 400 employees would have been out of a job when its portfolio reached maturity.

The Obama administration offered tepid praise for the Ex-Im provision.

“While the administration acknowledges that the bill reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank, the administration encourages the Congress to pass a long-term extension to provide certainty to job-creators that export U.S.-made products and services,” the White House said.

The CR also includes a boost in funding for the Veterans Affairs Department to investigate potential impropriety in manipulating waitlist data and retaliating against whistleblowers. It would increase appropriations to reduce VA’s disability claims backlog and allow Customs and Border Protection the flexibility to move funds around so it can maintain current workforce levels.

The measure avoids more controversial provisions, such as addressing the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to close 82 facilities nationwide in 2015. A majority of senators and 160 House representatives wrote to their respective appropriations committees asking that any spending bill delay closures for one year.

Per Obama’s direct request, the spending bill includes language authorizing the training and arming of moderate opposition against the radical Islamic group ISIS.

(Image via Gary Blakeley / Shutterstock.com)

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