Another Government Shutdown Threat Looms As Lawmakers Break For Recess

When they return, lawmakers will have just days to either pass or extend the deadlines of key funding bills. If they fail, a partial shutdown begins on March 1.

photo of Kansas capitol building
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The threat of a government shutdown looms large once again as lawmakers from both chambers have left Washington for a recess and are due back with only days to spare before the first of two key funding deadlines expires.

If they cannot quickly reach agreement or extend the expiration deadline on four of 12 appropriations bills by midnight March 1, a partial shutdown begins. On March 8, if they fail to do so again for the remaining eight bills, the government goes into a full shutdown.

House of Representatives members, who left today (February 16) for a scheduled break, are set to return February 28. The Senate, which has been out of session all week, is due to return February 26.

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What's at stake

A lot is at stake if Congress fails to pass the bills, including the prospect that many government operations would be forced to close or run on greatly reduced staff with limits on some public services.

A government shutdown could affect you in a number ways from disrupting travel plans to stopping certain outreach programs for veterans among others.

The government has been operating for months under a series of continuing resolutions (CRs), stopgap measures that have kept it open while negotiations on the funding bills proceed. Each time, lawmakers have waited until the 11th hour to pass the CRs, which serve to keep extending the deadlines on the bills. Without the extension or passage by both the House and Senate, a shutdown starts.

While the last CR passed on January 18 setting the early March deadlines, it was the third temporary stopgap measure for the bills. Lawmakers may find themselves back in the same place at the end of this month if they fail again to reach agreement on the long-term funding.

The 12 bills

The four appropriations bills that are due to expire on March 1 cover funding for:

  • Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
  • Energy and Water Development
  • Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies
  • Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies

The remaining eight appropriations bills due to expire on March 8, cover funding for:

  • Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
  • Defense
  • Financial Services and General Government
  • Homeland Security
  • Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
  •  Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies 
  • Legislative Branch
  • State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

The top-line funding agreement

Under a top-line funding agreement by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), about $886 billion of funding would be allocated to defense spending and roughly $772 billion for discretionary spending. The deal also includes a previously agreed to $20 billion cut in Internal Revenue Services funding and rescinds $6.1 billion for coronavirus program funding.

Consequences of a shutdown

Here’s what to know about the agencies and services that are at stake in the event of a shutdown:

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Senior News Editor

Esther D’Amico is Kiplinger’s senior news editor. A long-time antitrust and congressional affairs journalist, Esther has covered a range of beats including infrastructure, climate change and the industrial chemicals sector. She previously served as chief correspondent for a financial news service where she chronicled debates in and out of Congress, the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the Commerce Department with a particular focus on large mergers and acquisitions. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and in English.