Congress will start 2024 in much the same way it spent most of 2023: staring down the possibility of a shutdown because of ongoing fights over the federal budget.
After passing a short-term budget extension in early November, lawmakers are again faced with the possibility of disruptions in military funding and government operations if they can’t come to an agreement over a full-year budget plan in the next few weeks. And their decisions in early January could cause problems for the fiscal 2025 budget before work on that spending plan even begins.
Fiscal 2024 began on Oct. 1, so federal agencies are already nearly three months into new spending cycles without appropriate changes in their funding plans. Pentagon leaders have said that means some new programs and purchases have been delayed until a new full-year budget plan is passed.
When that will happen is unclear. Congress actually faces a pair of potential shutdown deadlines in the next few weeks.
The short-term spending deal approved in November extended funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a few other agencies until Jan. 19. If a budget deal is not reached before then, only those offices would be forced into partial closure.
Meanwhile, VA does have advance appropriations to keep hospitals, benefits offices and most other operations going past that date. So, a partial government shutdown in late January may have a limited impact on military and veteran families.
But Defense Department funding — as well as Homeland Security and the rest of the government — only runs until Feb. 2. If a budget deal is not reached before then, troops’ paychecks will halt, non-essential base services will shutter and family moves will be postponed.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have said they hope to avoid that, but they remain far apart on a compromise.
House Republican leaders have insisted that spending limits must be part of any full-year budget deal. White House officials have insisted that lawmakers follow the budget outlines agreed upon early last summer, as part of the debt limit extension deal.
Typically, work begins on the next year’s federal budget plan in early February. In 2024, lawmakers may still not have last year’s work finished by that time.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.