December 23, 2019

What is a Continuing Resolution?

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.

What is the current funding situation for fiscal year 2020?

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. A second continuing resolution that ran through December 20 was needed to allow lawmakers to continue negotiations on appropriations for the entire fiscal year.

On December 20, all 12 appropriation bills were enacted in two consolidated packages that will fund the federal government through September 30, 2020.

Why are CRs an important part of the budget process?

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.

How often are CRs used?

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.

Lawmakers have passed a total of 119 continuing resolutions since the beginning of fiscal year 1998

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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.


Related: Four Reasons Why a Government Shutdown Is Harmful


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