With Spending Deadline and Presidential Election Approaching, Congress Begins Formulating a Continuing Resolution

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Prospects of completing work on any of the fiscal year 2021 spending bills by the September 30 deadline were dim at the outset of this year’s budget cycle, but with Congress entering its last legislative stretch before the 2020 election, it’s clear that lawmakers will have to turn to a stopgap funding measure to prevent a government shutdown.

Yet the package could face challenges for the legislative branch, as lawmakers have struggled to cobble together bicameral spending packages, as seen in Congress’ latest fiscal hurdle — an extensive stalemate over additional coronavirus relief. Leaders still have a little more than four weeks to come up with a plan to stave off short-term fiscal uncertainty and while continuing resolutions are nothing new for Congress, especially during an election year, these past two congressional classes have on many occasions toyed with and even endured government shutdowns.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in an update to members on the floor schedule for September said even though the chamber passed its version of the fiscal year 2021 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-H) spending bill, a lack of action by the Senate makes a short-term spending bill inevitable. 

“At this rate, it is likely that we will have to pass a continuing resolution to keep government open past the end of this fiscal year,” Hoyer said in the letter. “While that is not ideal, the House will do its job to avert a shutdown that would only further damage our economy.”

Since the legislative calendar is narrowed this month, it is possible that the two issues of a continuing resolution and coronavirus aid could be tied together, even though leaders have urged for the issues to be treated separately. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she does not want coronavirus aid to be incorporated into fiscal talks because “people will die” if additional aid is held until September 30.

Because a number of relief provisions provided by the last bout of aid — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — are set to expire after September 30, it is possible that a number of those policies will come up during negotiations over a continuing resolution, especially if the stalled relief talks do not yield a result.

However with President Donald Trump’s recent executive order, and the Department of Education (ED) officially announcing that student loan borrowers' federal loan payments will be automatically paused through December 2020, interest-free, with no opt-in request needed, it is possible that student loan relief will not be included in this round of spending talks.

For more information on the federal budget process, see NASFAA’s Federal Budget and Appropriations page and NASFAA’s budget FAQs.


Publication Date: 9/3/2020

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