DAVID GREENE, Host:
House lawmakers are using their energy to try to keep the federal government open. They're working on a temporary measure to fund the government through mid-November. The Senate passed the measure early last week. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says he expects it will pass his chamber as well.
S: Hopefully, we can certainly avoid any kind of shutdown talk this time; get it done, and continue along our mission to try and change the way that spending occurs in this town.
GREENE: Comments like this probably sound familiar. Just this past Thursday, the House passed a funding measure to keep the government open for four days. NPR's Tamara Keith has this look at an age-old Washington routine.
TAMARA KEITH: Richard Kogan is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He says continuing resolutions come in when Congress can't get its work on appropriations bills done before the start of the new fiscal year.
RICHARD KOGAN: Congress basically granted itself more time to finish the drafting and consideration and acceptance of the normal appropriations bills.
KEITH: This is the proverbial extension - where you go to the professor and say, I can't get the paper done by Friday.
KOGAN: Only in this case, the student and the professor are the same people.
KEITH: There are 12 separate appropriations bills. For the fiscal year that started Saturday, the House has passed six; the Senate, just one. That means there's a whole lot of work left to do. But this isn't all that unusual. There have been 157 continuing resolutions since 1974. Add to that various temporary extensions for things like highways and the FAA, and it begins to seem like this place has a problem with long-term commitment. Kogan says it's become an issue recently because the era when congressional compromise was the norm appears to be over.
KOGAN: I don't think that the problem is that we have more temporary things than in the past, but rather that the normal amount of temporary things reflects itself in more public fights.
KEITH: Such as these...
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCASTS)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Welcome back. We're watching that clock as it ticks down to a possible government shutdown. Joining me now...
MAN: A stalemate over the Federal Aviation Administration budget...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Definitely people rolling their eyes at this one when I say this, that we could be heading for another government shutdown. This over a fight...
KEITH: That was a collection of shutdown showdowns just from the past six months. Roy Meyers is a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He says all this brinksmanship sends a bad signal to the public. But there's a more basic concern. He says temporary funding measures breed inefficiencies in government.
ROY MEYERS: And what that means is that there's a great deal of uncertainty when you're running a program about how much money you have to hire people or to sign contracts and the like, and that creates lots of inefficiencies.
KEITH: It doesn't stop with government. Greg Kelly is president of transportation at Parsons Brinckerhoff, a big company that works with state and local transportation agencies. He and a lot of others are hoping for a long-term authorization of highway and transit funding.
GREG KELLY: It's been two years. It was September of '09 when the last federal bill expired.
KEITH: The current temporary extension is set to run through the end of March. Kelly says big transit and road projects require more certainty than that.
KELLY: It does involve a long-term horizon. And so if you're looking at, you know, three-month or six-month or even one-year horizons, it's difficult to plan those investments.
KEITH: And that can have real consequences, says Janet Kavinoky. She looks at transportation and infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
JANET KAVINOKY: For business, uncertainty equals increased cost. And it certainly, in transportation, has resulted in fewer jobs.
KEITH: If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Businesses hate uncertainty. Though right now just about the only thing that's certain in Washington is the likelihood of continued uncertainty. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.