A continuing resolution, or “CR,” is a temporary measure that Congress can use to fund the federal government for a limited amount of time. Continuing resolutions are often employed to avoid a government shutdown and give lawmakers more time to enact the appropriation bills that are necessary to fund the federal government for the full fiscal year.
Fiscal year 2020 began on October 1, 2019 and none of the 12 appropriation bills for the year had been enacted at that point. As a result, a continuing resolution was put in place through November 21 to provide temporary funding for government operations.
Because it remains the case that no full-year appropriations have been finalized for 2020, a second continuing resolution has been enacted to extend through December 20. If appropriations are not enacted by that date — or another continuing resolution is not put in place to temporarily fund the government — we would face a shutdown.
As of November 21, 10 appropriation bills have been passed by the House and four have been passed by the Senate. However, none of the bills have been agreed to by both chambers, so there is still significant work to be done.
While temporary funding measures often avoid shutdowns, they also reflect the failure of lawmakers to reach agreement on some or all appropriation bills for a full fiscal year. Funding the government for a full year is preferable to using a CR because it allows government agencies to plan appropriately and match their resources with their responsibilities. Predictability benefits the economy by providing certainty about government activities.
For example, appropriations support government programs that touch nearly every aspect of our daily lives as well as various facets of the economy — including national defense, operating national parks, law and immigration enforcement, health care research, and a host of other activities. All of those activities are funded through the 12 regular appropriation bills that are supposed to be enacted into law each year by the Congress and President. Under regular budget order, lawmakers would enact all of those full-year appropriation bills before October 1.
Missing the October 1 deadline to enact all 12 appropriation bills is not unusual; in fact, that deadline has not been fully met since fiscal year 1997. Instead, lawmakers have come to rely heavily on CRs — temporary, imperfect solutions that avoid the difficult but necessary work of allocating funding. Lawmakers often enact multiple CRs in a single fiscal year before deciding on full-year funding levels. For fiscal years 1998 through 2020, 119 CRs have been enacted.
Without annual funding provided through the appropriation process, a government shutdown would occur and such a shutdown could have significant fiscal and economic effects. Such effects include the disruption of government services and programs, creation of uncertainty about future fiscal policy, and the imposition of unnecessary costs on the economy.
Lawmakers’ dependence on CRs to fund the government on a short-term basis undermines the budget process and introduces uncertainty to government agencies. By enacting full-year funding bills on time, lawmakers can focus their attention on other important legislative duties and government agencies can operate more efficiently.
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