12:01am

Tue October 4, 2011
Politics

Running The Government On Temporary Extensions

Originally published on Sat December 15, 2012 1:54 pm

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a temporary measure — passed by the Senate last week — to keep the government funded through mid-November.

"Hopefully, we can certainly avoid any shutdown talk this time," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "Get it done and continue along our mission to try and change the way spending occurs in this town."

These temporary funding extensions, lasting a few days or a few weeks, are pretty standard in Washington. Called "continuing resolutions," they go all the way back to 1876.

Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said continuing resolutions come in when Congress can't get its work on appropriations bills done before the start of the new fiscal year.

"Congress basically granted itself more time to finish the drafting and consideration and acceptance of the normal appropriations bills," Kogan said.

It's kind of like the proverbial extension where you go to the professor to get extra time to finish a paper, "only in this case, the student and the professor are the same people," Kogan said.

Much Work Remains

There are 12 separate appropriations bills. For the fiscal year that started Saturday, the House passed six, the Senate just one.

But this isn't all that unusual. There have been 157 continuing resolutions since 1974. Add to that various temporary extensions for things such as highways and the Federal Aviation Administration, and it begins to seem like Congress has a problem with long-term commitment. Kogan said it has become an issue recently because the era when congressional compromise was the norm appears to be over.

"I don't think that the problem is that we have more temporary things than in the past, but rather that the normal amount of temporary things reflects itself in more public fights," Kogan said.

There have been several shutdown showdowns in just the past six months.

Roy Meyers, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the brinkmanship sends a bad signal to the public. But there's a more basic concern. He said temporary funding measures breed inefficiencies in government.

"What that means is that there's a great deal of uncertainty when you're running a program about how much money you have to hire people or to sign contracts and the like, and that creates lots of inefficiencies," Myers said.

It doesn't stop with government.

Greg Kelly, president of transportation at Parsons Brinckerhoff, a company that works with state and local transportation agencies, said he is hoping for a long-term authorization of highway and transit funding.

"It's been two years," Kelly said. "It was September of '09 when the last federal [highway] bill expired."

The current temporary extension is set to run through the end of March. Kelly said big transit and road projects require more certainty than that.

"If you're looking at three-month or six-month or even one-year horizons, it's difficult to plan those investments," he said.

And that can have real consequences.

"For business, uncertainty equals increased cost," said Janet Kavinoky, who works on transportation and infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "And it certainly in transportation has resulted in fewer jobs."

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Businesses hate uncertainty. Though right now, just about the only thing that's certain in Washington is the likelihood of continued uncertainty.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, Host:

House lawmakers are using their energy to try to keep the federal government open. They're working on a temporary measure to fund the government through mid-November. The Senate passed the measure early last week. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says he expects it will pass his chamber as well.

S: Hopefully, we can certainly avoid any kind of shutdown talk this time; get it done, and continue along our mission to try and change the way that spending occurs in this town.

GREENE: Comments like this probably sound familiar. Just this past Thursday, the House passed a funding measure to keep the government open for four days. NPR's Tamara Keith has this look at an age-old Washington routine.

TAMARA KEITH: These temporary funding measures to keep the government operating for a few days, or a few weeks, are pretty standard here in Washington. They're called continuing resolutions, and they go all the way back to 1876.

Richard Kogan is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He says continuing resolutions come in when Congress can't get its work on appropriations bills done before the start of the new fiscal year.

RICHARD KOGAN: Congress basically granted itself more time to finish the drafting and consideration and acceptance of the normal appropriations bills.

KEITH: This is the proverbial extension - where you go to the professor and say, I can't get the paper done by Friday.

KOGAN: Only in this case, the student and the professor are the same people.

KEITH: There are 12 separate appropriations bills. For the fiscal year that started Saturday, the House has passed six; the Senate, just one. That means there's a whole lot of work left to do. But this isn't all that unusual. There have been 157 continuing resolutions since 1974. Add to that various temporary extensions for things like highways and the FAA, and it begins to seem like this place has a problem with long-term commitment. Kogan says it's become an issue recently because the era when congressional compromise was the norm appears to be over.

KOGAN: I don't think that the problem is that we have more temporary things than in the past, but rather that the normal amount of temporary things reflects itself in more public fights.

KEITH: Such as these...

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCASTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Welcome back. We're watching that clock as it ticks down to a possible government shutdown. Joining me now...

MAN: A stalemate over the Federal Aviation Administration budget...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Definitely people rolling their eyes at this one when I say this, that we could be heading for another government shutdown. This over a fight...

KEITH: That was a collection of shutdown showdowns just from the past six months. Roy Meyers is a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He says all this brinksmanship sends a bad signal to the public. But there's a more basic concern. He says temporary funding measures breed inefficiencies in government.

ROY MEYERS: And what that means is that there's a great deal of uncertainty when you're running a program about how much money you have to hire people or to sign contracts and the like, and that creates lots of inefficiencies.

KEITH: It doesn't stop with government. Greg Kelly is president of transportation at Parsons Brinckerhoff, a big company that works with state and local transportation agencies. He and a lot of others are hoping for a long-term authorization of highway and transit funding.

GREG KELLY: It's been two years. It was September of '09 when the last federal bill expired.

KEITH: The current temporary extension is set to run through the end of March. Kelly says big transit and road projects require more certainty than that.

KELLY: It does involve a long-term horizon. And so if you're looking at, you know, three-month or six-month or even one-year horizons, it's difficult to plan those investments.

KEITH: And that can have real consequences, says Janet Kavinoky. She looks at transportation and infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

JANET KAVINOKY: For business, uncertainty equals increased cost. And it certainly, in transportation, has resulted in fewer jobs.

KEITH: If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Businesses hate uncertainty. Though right now just about the only thing that's certain in Washington is the likelihood of continued uncertainty. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.