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Monday, December 5, 2011

Continuing Resolutions: Latest Action and Brief Overview of Recent Practices

Sandy Streeter
Analyst on Congress and the Legislative Process

Most routine operations of federal departments and agencies are funded each year through the enactment of 12 regular appropriations acts. Because these bills are annual, expiring at the end of the fiscal year (September 30), regular appropriations bills for the subsequent fiscal year must be enacted by October 1. Final action on most regular appropriations bills, however, is frequently delayed beyond the start of the fiscal year. When this occurs, the affected departments and agencies are generally funded under temporary continuing appropriations acts until the final funding decisions become law. Because continuing appropriations acts are generally enacted in the form of joint resolutions, such acts are referred to as continuing resolutions (or CRs).

CRs may be divided into two categories based on duration—those that provide interim (or temporary) funding and those that provide funds through the end of the fiscal year. Interim continuing resolutions provide funding until a specific date or until the enactment of the applicable regular appropriations acts, if earlier. Full-year continuing resolutions provide funding in lieu of one or more regular appropriations bills through the end of the fiscal year.

Over the past 35 years, the nature, scope, and duration of continuing resolutions gradually expanded. From the early 1970s through 1987, CRs gradually expanded from being used to provide interim funding measures of comparatively brief duration and length to measures providing funding through the end of the fiscal year. The full-year measures included, in some cases, the full text of one or more regular appropriations bills and contained substantive legislation (i.e., provisions under the jurisdiction of committees other than the House and Senate Appropriations Committees). Since 1988, continuing resolutions have primarily been interim funding measures, and included major legislation less frequently.

In certain years, delay in the enactment of regular appropriations measures and CRs has led to periods during which appropriations authority has lapsed. Such periods generally are referred to as funding gaps.

Congress did not enact any of the 12 FY2012 regular appropriations acts by the start of the fiscal year and has, therefore, enacted two temporary FY2012 continuing resolutions, P.L. 112-33 and P.L. 112-36, which sequentially extend funding from October 1, 2011, through November 18, 2011. The acts are almost identical.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that each act provides an annualized amount of $1.043 trillion in discretionary spending that is subject to the FY2012 discretionary spending limits established in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA; P.L. 112-25). This amount equals the total FY2012 discretionary limits agreed to in the BCA. The two CRs provide an additional $119 billion in discretionary funds designated for overseas continuing operations/global war on terrorism. Under the BCA, funds so designated are exempt from the discretionary spending limits.

On November 18, 2011, President Barack H. Obama signed P.L. 112-55, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012. This act extends funding for the nine outstanding FY2012 regular appropriations bills for a month, through December 16, 2011, and completes three FY2012 regular bills.

Date of Report: November 2
2, 2011
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R
Price: $29.95

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