Happening Now

As THUD Deadline Looms, Another CR Looks Likely

January 12, 2024

By Jim Mathews / President & CEO

We’re seven days away from the expiration of the latest stopgap funding measure that keeps the Federal government running and, once again, money for passenger rail and Amtrak may be caught in the political crossfire. At a minimum it looks as if Amtrak’s funding is nearly certain to get caught up in another short-term continuing resolution, or CR.

I’m writing this on Friday at midday and given how chaotic House discussions have been this week this could all be not true by the time you read this. However, as of now, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is seriously considering reneging on a deal he cut last weekend with the rest of the congressional leadership that would have kept appropriations moving by capping spending and including a small and incomplete list of hard-line Republican policy priorities in some of the resulting bills.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate Majority Leader, is already setting the machinery in place for a vote next week on some kind of continuing resolution that would keep things running until the two chambers’ leaders can negotiate a longer-term deal. I’ve been in touch with appropriators this week and a handful of key offices and nearly everyone – Democrats and Republicans – agrees that a government shutdown would be terrible for the country and needs to be avoided at all costs.

The current CR covering the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) bill where Amtrak funding resides expires on January 19, along with other measures covering agriculture, rural development, the Food and Drug Administration, military construction, and energy. Eight other appropriations measures would expire on Feb. 2.

The trouble, of course, is that the House Freedom Caucus of deeply conservative Republicans is deeply opposed to continuing resolutions...as is Speaker Johnson. Last week, he glumly told reporters that he hated CRs and hated having to do deals across the aisle to get appropriations done but also that he recognized that with a tiny majority that was the only course open to him to keep the government running. Under pressure from the Freedom Caucus Johnson may now pull out of the deal he agreed to last weekend, and that sets the stage for a choice between a CR – anathema to the Freedom Caucus – or a government shutdown.

Nobody knows the real timing here, including appropriators working to get this done. February 2nd has been floated as one of the extension dates for a new continuing resolution, as has mid-March. There’s also been talk about combining the four measures that will expire next week –including the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) bill where Amtrak funding resides – with the remaining eight that will expire on Feb. 2 into a larger continuing resolution that would run until mid-March. But given Republican opposition to these so-called “omnibus” bills, that seems unlikely.

For now, in our view the likelihood of a short-term continuing resolution is relatively high. And regardless, Amtrak generally can get through short periods of government shutdown with money already appropriated and coming in from other sources. Nonetheless, members of Congress departed D.C. yesterday for the three-day Martin Luther King, Jr., Day holiday observance with no obvious outlines for a deal. Who knows what the weekend will bring?