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Legislative Update: Congress Grapples With CR and the Debt Ceiling

Continuing Resolution

Earlier this week, we shared that funding for federal fiscal year 2013 will end on September 30th and that Congress has not yet approved any of the 12 full-year appropriations bills for FY 2014. If Congress cannot come to an agreement on a Continuing Resolution (CR) – which would temporarily continue current funding levels for federal agencies and programs – by the close of September 30th, we may face a federal government shutdown on October 1st.Capitol

The House passed a CR last Friday which would fund the government until December 15th of this year. However, the House version (H.J. Res. 59) contained a provision that would defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare,” something Senate Democrats and the White House have emphatically stated they will not support. The House CR, strongly supported by House Republicans, has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

Today, the Senate voted 79-19 to end debate on the House’s spending bill. This means that another Senate vote will likely take place later today to amend the House bill by removing the ACA defunding provision. The “clean” Senate bill would fund the government through November 15th, a month less than the House version. The Senate is expected to finish this process later today and send the clean bill to the House for consideration.

With a September 30th midnight deadline looming, Republican leaders in the House will have limited time to consider their options. Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was asked if he and his party would pass the Senate’s version. His response— “I do not see that happening.”— has cast serious doubts as to whether Congress will be successful in passing a spending bill to avoid a federal government shutdown.

Debt Ceiling

As Congress continues to debate over the CR, they are also beginning to address the looming debt ceiling deadline. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that the statutory debt limit would be reached by October 17th when the “Treasury [Department] would have only approximately $30 billion to meet our country’s commitments.

The debt limit, or debt ceiling, is a legislative restriction on the amount of money the Treasury Department is allowed to borrow to pay for existing legal obligations. Failure to raise the debt ceiling would force the federal government to default on some, if not all, of these existing legal obligations.

It is important to note that raising the debt ceiling simply pays for the debts the government has already incurred and does not create new ones. Failure to increase the debt limit would have, according to the Treasury Department, “catastrophic economic consequences.”

Yesterday, Republican leadership in the House attempted to begin the process of drafting legislation to raise the debt ceiling. This process broke down when members of the GOP caucus insisted that any increase in the debt limit be tied to a long and varied list of conservative priorities. Efforts were discontinued when House Republicans were unable to come to an agreement on a proposal.

Since then, Congressional activity regarding the debt ceiling has been limited. With the looming CR deadline early next week, it is unclear how Congress will balance both the need to raise the debt ceiling by October 17th and fund the federal government for the new fiscal year. Throwing even more uncertainty into the equation is President Obama’s refusal to negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling. The House is set to be in session through the weekend to work on these issues.

Check the NASDCTEc blog for the latest updates on Congressional activity related to these debates.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

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