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Federal Government Shutdown on the Horizon?

When Congress returns from its five-week summer break Sept. 8, lawmakers will scramble to avert a government shutdown before Oct. 1, when the curtain closes on the current fiscal year.

To do so, they'll have to broker a deal to either continue current spending levels for a certain period of time—something known as a continuing resolution, or CR—or hash out a broader, all-inclusive spending plan called an omnibus. They could also settle on a combination of the two, in which they agree on an all-inclusive spending plan for a limited period of time, a hybrid fiscal fix known inside the Beltway as a "cromnibus."

Though collectively the House and Senate navigated farther this year through the appropriations process for the 12 federal agencies, including for the U.S. Department of Education, than they have in more than a decade, they are still slated to fall short of completing the spending bills in regular order.

Of course that comes as no surprise. The last time Congress actually funded all agencies through the regular appropriations process was in 1997.

This time, one of the biggest culprits is the expiration of the budget deal negotiated back in 2013 by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which set funding levels above what was outlined in the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.

With the Murray-Paul deal expiring at the end of September, Republicans this year took advantage of their new majority to craft appropriations bills that adhere to those sequester spending caps. And that they did.

In the House, the appropriations committee passed a fiscal 2016 spending bill that would slash funding for the Education Department and its federal education programs by $2.8 billion compared to current levels. In the Senate, the appropriations committee approved a bill that would cut funding by $1.7 billion.

And both bills would eliminate dozens of programs, including many high-profile Obama administration priorities like the School Improvement Grants, the Preschool Development Grant, Investing in Innovation, and the Teacher Incentive Fund.

Notably, the president has promised to veto any spending bill that locks in sequester-level funding, so each chamber's fiscal plans are more for show than anything—though they can certainly be used as a road map to highlight Republican education priorities.

 All of that brings us to where we are today: current fiscal year spending set to expire Sept. 30, fiscal 2016 appropriations bills that the president has promised to veto, and no deal in sight to avert a government shutdown.

House and Senate leadership finally began acknowledging the issue in the last few weeks. Roll Call reported that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, predicted the chambers would sign off on a CR, though he didn't say for how long the potential stop-gap funding measure would run.

So how will all this impact education?

At this moment, it's still unclear. But the likely answer is that any short-term deal to avert the government shutdown will have minimal impact, if any. A long-term CR would also have limited impact. A new budget deal, however, could spell trouble for some of the Obama administration grants that Republicans nixed in their fiscal 2016 spending proposals.

That option, however, seems as though it would be difficult to broker. After all, members of Congress will have just 10 legislative days to find a path forward once they get back to town.

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