In recent years, Congress had often failed to pass spending bills for fiscal years before the beginning of those fiscal years. To maintain government operations on a temporary basis, Congress adopted the practice of passing “continuing resolutions”, which kept Executive Branch departments and agencies operating at their previously-approved levels until it could pass spending bills for the new fiscal year. The continuing resolution issue had become contentious, with whatever party was in the minority criticizing the majority party for not being able to get spending bills passed prior to the fiscal year to which they applied.
Among the first appropriation bills for fiscal year 2010 that the House and Senate had each passed was the one that funded the operations of the Legislative Branch. This occurred shortly before the beginning of the 2010 fiscal year. The House Republican minority was concerned that a continuing resolution would be attached to the final Legislative Branch funding bill that would be worked out between the two houses. The attachment of the resolution would occur in the House-Senate conference, where Congress typically works out differences in bills passed by the two Houses. The Republicans wanted the Congress to develop a separate continuing resolution unrelated to the Legislative Branch funding bill. If an unrelated continuing resolution were developed, there would be a separate vote on it. The debate that would occur on this separate vote would give the Republicans an opportunity to focus on the fact that the Democratic majority had not been able to complete the spending bills for the 2010 fiscal year by the beginning of that fiscal year.
Rep. Alderholt (R-AL), who was leading the effort to separate out a continuing resolution, moved to have the House instruct the Members who would be its representatives in the House-Senate conference on the bill not to add a continuing resolution to that bill. Alderholt first acknowledged that: “(I)f we do not pass a continuing resolution, our nation will face a potentially devastating government-wide shutdown.” He then said “(H)owever, by attaching the continuing resolution to this Legislative Branch appropriation bill, the majority is forcing Members to choose between voting for our own office budgets or voting for a government shutdown. The majority is also using this parliamentary gimmick to avoid certain debate or votes on the floor that would occur under the normal continuing resolution process.”
Rep. Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who was leading the opposition to the effort to separate out the continuing resolution, argued that the motion “ties the hands of the conference committee . . . and our preference in the House is to make sure the conferees have as much flexibility as possible to ensure that the government can continue to function.” Rep. Obey (D-WI), the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, also opposed the effort to separate out the continuing resolution. Obey noted that, in 2006, the Republicans “then in the majority--attached the continuing resolution to the Department of Defense appropriation bill. Only two Republican Members of the House voted against that. Mr. Aderholt voted for that process . . . So it would seem to me considerably ill-advised for this House to say that in order to keep the government open, we are not allowed to follow the very same procedure which was followed by the other side of the aisle . . . .”
The motion was defeated by a vote of 191-213. One hundred and sixty-nine Republicans and twenty-two Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and twelve Democrats and one Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the House Members of the House-Senate conference on the 2010 fiscal year Legislative Branch funding bill retained the ability to add a continuing resolution to that bill, which would keep Executive Branch departments and agencies operating.