With a funding deadline just two days away, Congress has approved a temporary spending bill to keep federal programs, including those that deal with construction and infrastructure, open into early 2024.
President Joe Biden signed the continuing resolution, or CR, into law on Nov. 17, the White House said in an early-morning statement.
Final congressional approval came late on Nov. 15, when the Senate approved the stopgap on a strong bipartisan 87-11 vote. The House had passed the measure the previous day.
The flurry of activity ends the threat of a widespread federal government shutdown at midnight Nov. 17.
Now that the stopgap is in place, construction and engineering groups and other infrastructure advocates quickly will turn their attention to the new federal funding cutoff dates that the CR sets.
Two New Funding Endpoints
The new CR, originally drafted by new House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), has an unusual, two-track deadline mechanism for the 12 individual appropriations bills, each of which covers spending for one or more federal departments and agencies.
For the bills funding most major construction and infrastructure programs, the CR sets a deadline of Jan. 19.
That date applies to the appropriations bills funding the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Departments; energy and water programs—which includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works program and most of the Dept. of Energy—as well as military construction and Dept. of Veterans Affairs; and the Dept. of Agriculture.
The other eight appropriations bills will have a deadline of Feb. 2. That date will apply to some construction programs, including General Services Administration federal buildings and State Dept. embassies.
A downside to the two-track approach is that the two deadlines provide two opportunities early in 2024 for new shutdown threats.
Senate and House appropriators have made some headway on spending bills for the full 2024 fiscal year, but have much work still to do if they are to beat the new CR’s deadlines.
So far, the House has passed seven of the 12 fiscal 2024 bills; the Senate has cleared three.
The final numbers for 2024 will hinge on negotiations between the Senate and House, which will have to resolve the wide differences between the bills produced by their respective chambers.
When congressional breaks for the year-end holidays are factored in, that leaves little time for those Senate-House discussions.
Optimism About Energy-Water Spending Bill
Gary Loew. a former senior official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Is optimistic about the outlook for at least one of the bills in the Jan. 19 group, energy and water programs, which includes the Corps' civil works program.
Loew, who now is a senior adviser with water resources consulting firm Dawson & Associates, said in an interview, "I've never seen an energy and water bill held up because the Congress couldn't work our their differences."
He said, "If some bills get stopped, I don't think energy and water would be one of them–unless it's hung up in a 'mini-bus' [package] with other appropriations that have something more controversial."
No Extension for an FAA Bill
But the CR does not extend the current Dec. 31 deadline for reauthorizing federal aviation excise taxes and Federal Aviation Administration programs.
Those programs include FAA's airport improvement grants, which fund runways and certain other infrastructure projects.
An American Association of Airport Executives spokesperson said that "Congress will have to do something between now and the end of the year–either another extension or passage of a long-term bill."
Threat of Across-the-Board Cuts
There is another appropriations wrinkle this year. Under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which Biden signed into law in June, if Congress fails to approve full-year spending bills by Jan. 1, 2024, across-the-board spending cuts of 1% would automatically be triggered. Those cuts would take effect April 30.
Story updated on 11/17/2023 with signing of the measure, additional reporting.