Later this month the temporary spending bill known as the continuing resolution, which funds the federal government, expires. But there are still five remaining months in the current fiscal year.
Congress will need to act. But members of Maine’s congressional delegation are worried about discussions to simply extend the continuing resolution instead of passing an actual budget.
The scenario is all too familiar. Members of Congress can’t agree on a budget, so they pass a continuing resolution that funds the government at the previous year’s level.
It’s been eight years since a budget was adopted before the new fiscal year got underway. And this year, despite the fact that Republicans control Congress and the White House, there’s already been talk of a government shutdown.
Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona wants military spending increased in the next budget and has threatened a shutdown if a continuing resolution is passed instead.
“I always worry that one of my colleagues on one side of the aisle or other will use that as an opportunity to threaten a government shutdown. The only thing worse than a continuing resolution is a government shutdown,” says Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King agrees with Collins. He says a continuing resolution raises a whole host of problems that affect government agencies as well as contractors who depend on work from the federal government.
“A continuing resolution doesn’t do any good — it doesn’t allocate in terms of current needs,” he says. “I work on Armed Services a lot. It’s terrible for the military because they can’t plan.”
King says locking in last year’s budget priorities does not allow regular government business to take place, like signing new contracts for goods or services, for example.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District, a Democrat who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, says failure to pass a budget would have a direct effect on Maine.
“This isn’t just about, you know, making sure that government pays for a few things that maybe don’t affect your life, this is about slowing down the work on the next destroyer at Bath Iron Works and it just doesn’t make any sense. It costs more money to do it that way,” she says.
Collins says without specific language authorizing them in the continuing resolution, no new contracts can be signed. And without those, she says there would be a ripple effect among hundreds of subcontractors for companies doing business with federal agencies.
“It would affect the engine parts that are produced at the Pratt & Whitney plant in North Berwick. It would have an impact on our National Guard because training and readiness would be affected. So the implications are very widespread,” she says.
Collins points out that it’s not just the military that would be affected by a continuing resolution. Another example would be Acadia National Park, where maintenance and improvements could be delayed.
Congress is currently on a two-week break. That means that when members return, they will only have four days to pass a budget bill before current funding authority runs out.
Collins says some of the regular budget bills are ready to be acted on, but Pingree is concerned there will be an attempt to add entirely new spending to the funding bill.
“The concern is now that the President wants to slip in some things into this budget that will be very hard to get agreement, certainly from the Democrats, but some of the Republicans too, like $6 billion to build the wall. Things that could have a huge impact on our next budget,” she says.
That budget is supposed to take effect Oct. 1, but little work has been done on it.
Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District has expressed concern in the past about use of continuing resolutions, but did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.