Whispers of a Shutdown


Washington’s attention is turning to the April 28 deadline for fiscal year (FY) 2017 spending bills. Congress has barely a month to either finish its work on outstanding appropriations bills, or pass another continuing resolution (CR). The timeline is particularly challenging due to a two-week Congressional recess in April. Just three in-session weeks are available between now and the CR’s expiration.

At least two issues complicate the completion or extension of this year’s spending bills. Some in Washington are starting to whisper the dreaded “s” word (shutdown).

1) Trump Administration changes to funding levels.

The CR is often an extension of the previous year’s funding levels. The Trump administration, however, has proposed significant increases for military and military-related spending. This would force cuts of as much as $18 billion in the discretionary budget. These cuts would come from the remaining few months of the fiscal year, not the entire year, making the situation even more challenging.

As an example of the administration’s proposed cuts, a portion of the $18 billion spending reduction would come from the transportation program:

  • Immediately eliminate the TIGER discretionary grant program (estimated FY17 savings: $500 million)
  • No new full funding grant agreements through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA’s) small starts and new starts programs (estimated FY17 savings: $450 million)
  • A reduction to the Army Corps of Engineers water resources program (estimated FY17 savings: $100 million)

The FTA cuts are perhaps the most interesting. Even if Congress chooses to continue funding the program at historic levels (or higher, even), it likely will not matter. It is up to the administration to sign the long-term funding agreements, and it has signaled that it will honor previous funding agreements but not sign new ones. Additional money could be provided, but likely will not be spent.

2) Potential dust up over Planning Parenthood funding.

The House’s failure to pass an Obamacare repeal last week leaves the defunding of Planned Parenthood an open issue. The administration and House conservatives, in particular, hope to resolve this quickly. Some members that opposed the Republican health care bill would also oppose spending bills that fail to end Planned Parenthood funding. This politically charged issue could force Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to choose: work with Democrats to keep the government functioning, or shut down the federal government. If a House bill passes that does defund Planned Parenthood, it will assuredly not pass in the Senate. A stalemate on this issue is highly likely, increasing the odds of a shutdown.

This is sure to become a major story in coming weeks.

Erich Zimmermann
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About the Author

Erich Zimmermann
I manage NARC’s transportation portfolio, advocating for the issues important to our members in Congress and the Administration. I also have extensive public policy experience in issues related to the federal budget and appropriations.

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