Can the United States Avoid Another Government Shutdown?

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

We’re coming up on the anniversary of 2013’s government shutdown. As September comes to a close, America is just a few months shy of a full year since Congress failed to pass a budget and shut down the government for sixteen days. This resulted in the furlough of federal government employees, the shutdown of national parks, and subsequent loss of national and state revenue and productivity. Panic over possible default on U.S. debts caused market uncertainty, and general dissatisfaction with government reached new highs at the time. Now, Congress has passed what is known as a Continuing Resolution, which has helped put off another shutdown until at least December 11 — at which point Congress will need to have passed an actual budget for 2015, or risk another deadlock like last year.

The Continuing Resolution may be a stopgap measure, but that isn’t all that it accomplishes. Yes, it keeps the government funded at current levels up until both Houses return and are prepared to pass more long term fiscal legislation, but it also includes provisions for a number of controversial and vital foreign affairs issues.

What the Continuing Resolution Means for International Politics

The Resolution’s passage has implications for U.S. efforts against the terrorist organization self-labeled as the Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIL or ISIS. In particular, the Resolution passed with an amendment that allowed for U.S. training and equipping Syrian opposition to aid in the fight against ISIL.

It also has measures to deal with Ebola in Western Africa and continued sanctions against Russia in relation to its aggressive actions in Ukraine, as well continuing humanitarian aid there. The Resolution allows for further funding of $30 million toward the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and $58 million towards the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. As for Russia and the crisis in Ukraine, it “includes a provision that provides flexibility to ensure that the Department of State and USAID can respond to events as they happen in Ukraine,” states the White House’s blog on the CR.

Why This Is Controversial

What the Resolution accomplished internationally, it accomplished by tagging onto the very necessary government funding extension. It basically looped an enormous amount of international activity in, and allowed the president to proceed with short-term Congressional permission rather than forcing the executive to act without legislative go ahead. It also twisted the arms of many into giving approval on efforts against the Islamic State that they might have reviewed more closely and critically otherwise.

Many in Congress — including a number of usually hostile faces, such as Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — were supportive of bill and its passage. In fact, the Resolution has been one of the few bipartisan efforts to succeed in a very long time, given the split nature of Congress and the added tension midterm elections have brought.

It’s my intention to support the CR,” McConnell said prior to the vote, according to Politico. “I support what the president’s doing, [but] I’d like to take another look at it a couple months from now and see how it’s working out. And that would give the Congress an opportunity to revisit that issue later this year.”

This is a gentler approach to uncertainty on the included international items than other Republican lawmakers have taken. Others did not want to wait months before considering international action piece by piece, as separate issues. They wanted to handle those decisions more immediately rather than passing them as part of the funding stop-gap measure.

“I wish the votes were split,” said Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), according to Politico. “It’s very inappropriate that the nation, people that everyone represents, are not going to have an opportunity to see on the very important issue of the moderate issue, how [congressmen] feel.” However, had the vote been split, there would have been a larger chance of standoff on separate measures, and greater attention would have been lent to each in front of the midterms, making passage even more difficult.

I want to thank leaders in Congress for the speed and seriousness with which they approached this urgent issue — in keeping with the bipartisanship that is the hallmark of American foreign policy at its best,” said President Barack Obama upon the Resolutions passage. The key word there is likely “speed,” given the delay Congressional approval would otherwise have seen.

What About December?

This brings us to perhaps the biggest question for federal employees and stock brokers looking onward towards this year’s funding deadlines. The Continuing Resolution was a major Congressional matter in regards to foreign affairs, but it reminds us of what could be an enormous political mess for the United States in a few months. It’s possible that post-midterm Congress will consist of a partisan breakdown that more easily passes budget legislation — though possibly legislation President Obama will not sign, especially if it seeks to take apart his signature healthcare work as we saw in last year’s budget battle.

It is also possible that even if Congress remains split after the votes have all been counted, Congressmembers will remember the PR nightmare that last year resulted in. Few gained positive reputations with their constituents, and very little was accomplished apart from the enormous cost to government productivity and taxpayer dollars, not to mention strain on international relations. Another shutdown so soon after the first would seem a terribly foolish mistake to make — like stepping in a trap clearly marked with orange cones and caution tape.

However, last year was hardly the first time Congress reached an impasse over the budget. At the very least, we can hope that it will not cut as close to the default deadline this year and that added measures are more constructive and passable than anti-Obamacare additions of old.

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