As discussed in our previous blog, continuing resolutions (CRs) are a legislative stop-gap measure that Congress can enact to keep the government funded and functioning temporarily. While intended to be a mere fall back option for Congress, it has increasingly become an accepted way of governing, being used an estimated six times a year since 1997. However, while CRs maintain government funding that should not be mistaken for the government continuing to fund government programs.
Let’s explain. While a CR maintains funding in order for the government to stay open, it does not add funding to programs that are running out, it does not re-fund programs that have already run out (at the end of the fiscal year) and it doesn’t foretell what, if any, additional funding will be allocated should a budget bill finally pass. Essentially, under a CR nothing changes and yet, everything is changing.
For example, funding for a widely supported health care program known as the Health Center Program expired at the end of the 2017 fiscal year. Not one of the CRs that has passed over recent months and weeks has used the “CR anomaly” tactic discussed in last week’s blog to address this funding need. Community health centers (CHCs) serve as the nation’s health care safety-net offering access to services and care to vulnerable populations across the country. And, since the program’s inception, it has received significant federal funding. While it is likely that this program will eventually be re-funded given its’ prominent role within our healthcare system and historically bipartisan support, CHCs are currently operating under tremendous uncertainty and therefore proceeding cautiously in case the expected funding does not materialize. In fact, The National Association of Community Health Centers has warned that CHCs have already begun reducing critical opioid and prenatal care services as well as facing issues retaining and hiring staff due to these funding uncertainties.
So, while the ability of Congress to enact CRs serves a critical purpose in ensuring our government does not shutdown, it does not mean that the government is fully open either. Maintaining the status quo is an excellent option, but for us to believe that a CR is, in fact, maintaining the status quo would be to ignore the impact that a government impasse creates outside of congressional chambers.
* Contributing Author: Dylan Kolb