Whether the first light of Monday brings furloughs of government employees, disruptions in air travel and disturbances in federal services depends on how a chain of events plays out over the next four days.
Oct. 1 -- Monday -- is the first day of fiscal 1991. Unless there is congressional action before then, on that day funding for government operations will run out. And if there is congressional action to keep the government functioning at least temporarily beyond Monday, that is also the day that automatic, across-the-board spending cuts mandated by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law will begin to take effect unless Congress has gone beyond stopgap measures and enacted a defict-reduction package.
Confusion and uncertainty over such fiscal matters have become routine in recent years, but they are even greater this year because of the prolonged stalemate between congressional leaders and Bush administration officials in pursuit of a five-year agreement to cut the federal budget deficit by $500 billion.
The protracted disagreement has brought the whole process to a standstill. Not one of the 13 spending bills to fund the government beginning Monday has been given final congressional approval. The House has passed only 10 and only five have won Senate approval.
As a result, a stopgap, omnibus spending bill would be needed to avoid a government shutdown. The measure, known as "continuing resolution," would fund federal agencies, departments and programs through Oct. 20 at current levels or at the levels in the measures already passed by the House or Senate, whichever is lowest. Continuing resolutions such as the one Congress is considering are a way to buy time, allowing the government to function while negotiations continue over a permanent budget agreement that meets the deficit target of $64 billion.
However, the future of this continuing resolution is complicated by the inclusion of a provision that would delay the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cuts. Without that language, the cuts would apply to the spending authorized in the stopgap bill.
House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) said he would support the delay as part of a budget agreement, using the time to translate the deal into legislation and enact it. Without a deal, though, President Bush has vowed to veto the continuing resolution, raising the prospect of a federal government without a dime beginning Monday. At that point, legally the government would have no spending authority on which to apply the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cuts.
If the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cuts are imposed, the Office of Management and Budget estimates they could total $105.7 billion, half from military accounts, half from non-military programs.