WASHINGTON – Congress voted Thursday to pass another continuing resolution — the third time this month that it has stepped in at the last minute to avoid a government shutdown.
The latest resolution will keep the federal government operating at last year’s spending levels until next Friday, Nov. 5, while Congress and the White House grapple with the budget for fiscal 2000, which began Oct. 1.
After it became clear that the budget would not be finished by Oct. 1, Congress passed a continuing resolution setting a deadline of Oct. 21. And then it set a deadline of Oct. 29, before stepping in Thursday and pushing it back to Nov. 5.
For federal workers, who went through a government shutdown during a budget stalemate in 1995, the game of musical deadlines has become routine.
“Federal workers are used to this, unfortunately,” said Diane Witiak, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees. “As long as Congress and the White House can come to a resolution that keeps them operating at the same level, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Mildred Adams, a consumer safety technician for the Food and Drug Administration in Baltimore, was not worried about the chance of a shutdown. She was confident on Thursday that Congress would pass a continuing resolution, as it did later in the day.
“It’s just a setback,” said Adams, who has worked for the FDA for 11 years.
For federal workers and their union representatives contacted Thursday, fear of a shutdown was not as great as their fear of a congressional proposal for an across-the-board budget cut of 1.4 percent. More than 100,000 federal workers live in Maryland.
“Even though we have an approved budget, Congress can always pass a bill saying you have an approved budget minus 1.4 percent,” said Jim Kelly, community builder in Baltimore for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“If they reduce it I’m not sure how it would be implemented on our level,” Kelly said. “My impression is we’ve got ours and hopefully it doesn’t get cut.”
Eight appropriations bills have already been passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton. But five more need to be passed in order for the government to have a budget for fiscal 2000, said John Scofield, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee.
The government will continue operating for now, he said.
“There’s been no interruption of money,” Scofield said. “It’s only affected if we don’t pass a continuing resolution.”