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A continuing resolution is a type of appropriations legislation used by the United States Congress to fund government agencies if a formal appropriations bill has not been signed into law by the end of the Congressional fiscal year. The legislation takes the form of a joint resolution, and provides funding for existing federal programs at current or reduced levels.

Federal budget procedure

The federal government of the United Statesmarker operates on a budget calendar that runs from October 1 through September 30. Each year, the Congress authorizes each department, agency, or program to spend a specific amount of money, and the President signs the bill into law. This money may not be spent, however, until it has been appropriated for a given purpose. The Department of Justicemarker, for example, is authorized to spend $22.2 billion each year, but may not do so until Congress passes a law that says so.

Because of this system, Congress is required to pass separate spending bills every year to ensure the operation of government. If Congress fails to pass such a bill, or the President fails to sign it into law, non-essential functions of the government will cease, as they are no longer allowed by law to spend money. In order to prevent the interruption of government services, Congress will often pass a continuing resolution. This authorizes government agencies to fund their agencies at the current level until either the resolution expires, or an appropriations bill is passed. A continuing resolution must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President.

Advantages and disadvantages

Standoffs between the President and Congress or between political parties, elections, and more-urgent legislative matters complicate the budget process frequently, making the continuing resolution a common occurrence in American government. They allow the government to take its time making difficult fiscal decisions, while maintaining a level of service that is nearly identical to that found during typical operations.

Federal agencies are disrupted, though, by the periods of reduced funding. With non-essential operations suspended, many agencies are forced to interrupt research projects, training programs, or other important functions. Its impact on day-to-day management can be severe, costing some employees the equivalent of several months time to focus on increased bureaucratic haggling and paperwork.

Continuing resolutions in history

The most significant incident involving continuing resolutions occurred in 1995, when a standoff between President Bill Clinton and Congressional Republican led to the shutdown of the federal government.
Without enough votes to override President Clinton's veto, Newt Gingrich led the Republicans not to submit a revised budget, allowing the previously-approved appropriations to expire on schedule, and causing parts of the Federal government to shut down for lack of funds. Negotiations between parties deteriorated into name-calling in the Capitol, snubbing any attempts at compromise. The shutdown backfired on the Republican leadership, and is attributed with helping Clinton win re-election in 1996.


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