With another deadline looming for a partial, but wide-ranging, government shutdown, congressional leaders have reached agreement on a framework covering overall funding levels—the "top line"—for the full 2024 fiscal year.

But hard-right House Republicans strongly objected to the deal, which top Democrats and Republicans announced on Jan. 7, raising the prospect of a further temporary spending bill.  

Since Nov. 17, agencies have been operating under a stopgap continuing resolution, or CR. That measure includes two expiration dates, each of which applies to a group of federal departments and agencies.

Eyes on Jan. 19 Deadline

The closer of the two deadlines is Jan. 19, which covers four of the 12 annual appropriations bills. They include funds for most major federal construction and infrastructure programs, including those at the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as military construction, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' civil works program and most of those at the Dept. of Energy.

The deadline for the other eight annual bills, which fund the rest of the departments and agencies, is Feb. 2. It applies to General Services Administration federal buildings and State Department embassy construction, among other programs.

Brian Turmail, Associated General Contractors of America vice president-public affairs and strategic initiatives, said in emailed responses to ENR questions, "A top-line spending agreement was a critical first step."

Turmail added, "The next step of achieving agreement between the House and Senate on dividing those funds among the individual appropriations bills and, in turn, individual agencies and programs is a herculean task."

Danielle Cloutier, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies' director of legislative affairs, said via email that the top-line spending bill is "a significant milestone," but added that "the implications that will have on Congress' ability to pass funding by the Jan. 19 and Feb. 2 deadlines and avoid a shutdown is unclear."

Cloutier said, "It is highly unlikely that we see four appropriations bills passed by the first deadline." She added, "Importantly, with the now tighter margins in the House, Speaker [Mike] Johnson (R-La.) has his work cut out for him.

"The most likely scenario is yet another short-term CR into the spring, giving Johnson more time to negotiate within his caucus," she added.

The House GOP's Freedom Caucus blasted the deal. "It's even worse than we thought," the caucus said in a Jan. 7 post on X, formerly Twitter. "This is total failure."

President Joe Biden said in a statement that the framework "moves us one step closer to preventing a needless government shutdown and protecting important national priorities."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also praised the deal. He said in a Jan. 8 floor statement, "This agreement now clears the way for Congress to act in the coming weeks to avoid a government shutdown, while also preserving key domestic programs that benefit millions of Americans."

Construction and infrastructure advocates, including those in Congress, want to avoid a shutdown.

CRs' Bar Against New Starts

But a new stopgap spending bill poses challenges of its own. Turmail pointed out that federal construction contracting agencies are prohibited from launching new project starts during a CR. He said, "This prohibition delays projects that would otherwise begin with FY 2024 funds from moving forward."

Turmail added that it also shortens the time for agencies to issue project solicitations due to timing restrictions for obligating funds. "Either agencies use it before the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30) or they lose it," he said.

A notable exception to CR new start prohibitions is the large share of federal highway funding that goes to state departments of transportation in the form of contract authority, Turmail said.

By the Numbers

Figuring out the size of the package depends on whom you ask.

Johnson said in a Jan. 7 letter to his GOP colleagues that the plan totals $1.59 trillion for fiscal 2024, of which $886 billion is for defense and $704 billion for nondefense discretionary programs. He called the framework "the most favorable budget agreement Republicans have achieved in over a decade."

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said that the agreement "adheres to" the total contained in the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law in June. DeLauro pegged that amount at $1.69 billion.

Schumer did not provide a total for the framework but said it has $772 billion for nondefense discretionary programs.

He noted that achieving full-year, government-wide appropriations package will need “a lot more compromise between the parties.”