Narrowly meeting a deadline to avoid a government shutdown, Congress on September 30 passed a short-term spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, to fund the federal government at existing levels through mid-December.
The funding bill is fairly limited, primarily funding the federal government at the previous fiscal year’s levels. It also contains some additional provisions for nutrition assistance and aid to farmers. Notably for higher education, the package also extends authorization for the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), the federal committee that guides the Department of Education on college accreditors and was set to expire at the end of the month. For student veterans, the bill extends the emergency flexibilities for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits that were initially passed in the CARES Act to ensure that these students do not lose any semesters of eligibility if their education was disrupted by the pandemic. It also authorizes the Department of Veterans Affairs to continue paying GI Bill education benefits through December 21, 2021, to a student if their school closes or ceases all in-person instruction as a result of the pandemic.
While Congress is meant to pass 12 full appropriations bills each year, partisan divides in recent years have often led to fighting over funding priorities that result in a failure to pass the bills by the end of the federal government’s fiscal year on September 30. Typically in these instances, lawmakers agree to short-term continuing resolutions that fund the federal government at the previous year’s levels until an agreement for the new fiscal year is reached; however, on a few occasions, lawmakers have been unable to agree even to continuing resolutions, forcing the federal government to shut down.
This year, leaders from both political parties made clear that passing a continuing resolution to avoid any threat of a federal government shutdown until after the election would be the most stable legislative option, in light of growing pressures tied to the upcoming elections, partisan disagreements over the ongoing federal government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and arguments over whether to immediately fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Lawmakers have already expressed optimism that they will be able to complete all 12 appropriations bills by the time this continuing resolution expires on December 11.