Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor Vol. 24 No. 33
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Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor
Article 4 of 12
August 28, 2020

Insiders Predict 3-Month Continuing Resolution for Federal Budget

By Wayne Barber

It is becoming increasingly obvious that Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution to keep the Department of Energy and all other federal agencies open beyond the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, a panel of Washington, D.C., insiders said Thursday.

“It’s almost guaranteed we are going to end up in a [continuing resolution].” Colin Jones, vice president and deputy general manager for North American nuclear at Jacobs, said during the online roundtable discussion sponsored by the Energy Communities Alliance (ECA).

The ECA, which represents localities near Energy Department facilities, held the event to provide a glimpse of what to expect from Congress and the Energy Department prior to the Nov. 3 election.

In July, the House of Representatives passed a package of six spending bills worth $1.3 trillion for the budget year beginning Oct. 1. President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the so-called minibus should it be adopted by the Senate in its current form. Among other things, the administration said the House would spend too much on nuclear cleanup operations at the Department of Energy and as a result siphon money away from the agency’s mission to ensure an enhanced nuclear deterrent. The administration sought about $20 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in 2021; the House bill would provide about $18 billion, which is still nearly $1.5 billion more than the 2020 budget.

The Senate has yet to issue its appropriations bills for fiscal 2021, with just weeks to go. Legislative schedules indicate there are no more than a dozen days left before Sept. 30 when both the House and Senate are in session.

It typically takes 10 legislative days to pass a “mildly controversial” bill, so there will be minimal time for the two chambers to agree on any full appropriations package, said DOE Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs Melissa Burnison. The House and Senate also have yet to agree on a new economic relief package for the COVID-19 pandemic, she added.

A continuing resolution would effectively freeze federal agency spending at prior-year levels until Congress can devise and pass new appropriations bills. The question appears to be whether the stopgap spending plan will last three months or six months, Burnison said.

“It’s going to be a [continuing resolution], probably three months,” requiring Congress to revisit the issue in December, said Sean Todd, president of Virginia-based consulting and lobbying firm Fox Potomac Resources President Sean Todd. The other panelists who expressed an opinion seemed to agree with this assessment.

There is “no prayer” of a full appropriations package passing in September, said Baker Elmore, director of federal programs for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Washington, D.C.-based trade association for the nuclear industry.

Dylan Kama, an ECA program director, said recent presidential elections suggest a final package for fiscal 2021 might not come until March or afterward, with continuing resolutions filling the void until then.

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