Even though Congress recently agreed to a two-year budget deal, it still has to pass an appropriations act by mid-December — budgets determine the maximum amount Congress can fund the government, while appropriations actually fund the government. With a new Speaker of the House and Republicans wanting to defund Planned Parenthood, Congress and the President will likely need to negotiate right up to the deadline. But unlike the December 11 date that Congress and commentators believe is the deadline, a close reading of the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2016
(“Act”) shows that the deadline is likely a day earlier.
The Act funds the government:
until whichever of the following first occurs: (1) the enactment into law of an appropriation for any project or activity provided for in this Act; (2) the enactment into law of the applicable appropriations Act for fiscal year 2016 without any provision for such project or activity; or (3) December 11, 2015.
The parallel sentence structure means ‘until’ must modify all three clauses similarly. ‘Until’ modifies the first two clauses as an exclusive end date. To interpret ‘until’ in the first two clauses as inclusive of new appropriations would mean that two appropriation acts could simultaneously be in effect. This is clearly not Congress’ intent. Thus, Congress uses ‘until’ exclusive of the end date in the third clause, and the Act will likely expire a day earlier on December 10, 2015.
*Sam Wice is an attorney adviser for the U.S. Government, a former analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, and a former Council member of the American Bar Association’s Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government.