A traditional rite of autumn is playing out in Washington DC: the US Congress is fighting tooth and nail over government spending.
With just four days until the next fiscal year begins, lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate are pushing vastly different proposals for how the government should spend its money. If the two bodies cannot reach agreement on a spending plan before 1 October, the government will shut down while they negotiate.
The chasm was apparent today when the Senate voted to approve a stopgap measure that would extend the current funding to 15 November. It would also provide cash to implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is set to take effect this year.
In contrast, the House approved a bill last week that would delay the ACA’s implementation by one year — a major goal for Republicans — while keeping the government running until 15 December.
If no agreement is reached in time, mandatory furloughs for many federal employees — including a sizable number of scientists — would begin immediately. Depending on its length, a shutdown could also disrupt ongoing experiments at federal agencies and delay grant payments to researchers at universities and research institutions.
For now, researchers, along with the rest of the US public, must play a waiting game. (Students of US politics may want to check out this New York Times infographic outlining how last-minute Congressional negotiations could play out.)