The continuing resolution passed by Congress this week prevented a pre-Thanksgiving government shutdown. And by keeping agencies funded into 2024, it also avoids a holiday tradition that lawmakers, such as new House Speaker Mike Johnson, are quick to criticize.

“What happens is there’s a C.R. that goes right up to Christmas break, and then they jam upon us thousands of pages of legislation that no one has a chance to adequately read through and digest or amend or anything else,” Johnson told reporters on Tuesday.

What You Need To Know

  • The recent spending deal means lawmakers will not need to do an end-of-year omnibus bill that ties together multiple appropriations bills

  • But returning to so-called regular order and passing each bill individually won’t be easy

Johnson and many of his fellow Republicans have called for Congress to stop putting all appropriations bills into a single measure and instead return to “regular order.” That means 12 different bills funding various parts of the federal government, each debated and voted on individually. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explained in a floor speech, “Regular order requires that Congress provide itself the time for careful consideration and thorough amendments.” 

But all that consideration and amending takes a lot of time. 

“It is an excruciating process under any under the best of circumstances or a more difficult, of course, by the degree of differences that exist today between the House and the Senate,” explained Bipartisan Policy Center senior vice president Bill Hoagland.  

The debt limit deal reached in June was supposed to make the process easier by setting establishing spending levels for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1 in exchange for raising the nation’s borrowing limit. But, Hoagland explained, the two chambers have treated the agreement differently, with the House viewing it as a ceiling for how much to spend and the Senate viewing it as the floor from which to build up.

And now, more than seven weeks after the start of the fiscal year, Congress is still not done with a full budget. The Senate saw all 12 voted out of committee with bipartisan support, but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has only brought three to the floor so far, all of which passed. The House has managed to pass seven of the 12 bills so far, even with Republicans only holding a narrow majority. But several times, leadership has had to pull a bill before it could come up for a vote due to differences within the GOP conference.  

Frustration over the slow process was one reason Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s GOP critics cited as a reason for forcing him out of the speakership. They argued continuing resolutions were unacceptable, especially ones like the version McCarthy put forward at the end of September that kept spending at current levels instead of making cuts.  

The C.R. passed under Johnson also did not make cuts. But by splitting up deadlines for when different agencies will have their funding run out, the new speaker is hoping to break Congress’ habit of passing so-called omnibus bills. Especially when they come up right before the holidays, these often include non-spending measures. Hoagland says that because it’s so difficult to get legislation through a divided congress, since the appropriation bill is a must-pass it becomes “a wonderful opportunity” for members of Congress to add on other items from their wish-lists. And by including priorities from both parties, congressional leaders can sometimes lock in more votes than the individual bills would get on their own.  

Johnson’s theory will be put to the test over the next two months, as Congress works to pass full-year spending bills before the first deadline. But Hoagland points out that by then, lawmakers will be behind schedule for getting the next fiscal year’s appropriations done.

“I don't know how we're going to be able to do (fiscal year 2025) appropriations, which should start, quite frankly, should start in January, setting the level for the upcoming fiscal year in October," Johnson said. 

And given the added pressure of an election, when some minority party members might be planning for a return to the majority in the next Congress, he expects that to also be a “messy process.”