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Groundhog Day: The 2015 Budget Fight and Its Looming Impact

Sep 30

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Wednesday, September 30, 2015  RssIcon

It’s the beginning of autumn and the leaves are starting to turn colors.   Election-season is in full gear, accompanied by harsh rhetoric across the political spectrum and intrusive television ads interrupting your local news broadcast.   


September 30th marks the end of another federal fiscal year and a government shutdown looms unless both chambers of Congress and the President can come to a budget agreement.

Stop me if this sounds familiar… because it could be any year in the last half-decade that this was written.  February 2nd is still months away, but we have reached Groundhog Day (or would season be more appropriate?) once again in America when it comes to funding the federal government.


There are few differences from one budget showdown from the next.   Each is typically tied to some issue du jour, but unlike soup, an increasingly frustrated American public has no appetite for this repetitive circus-like atmosphere.

In 2013 (FY 2014 budget) the budget was held hostage over attempts to repeal Obamacare. In 2014 (FY2015 budget), the debt ceiling was used as leverage in an attempt to extract deep spending cuts across government programs.  Now, in 2015 (FY 2016 budget), some legislators are advocating government shutdown as a strategy to defund Planned Parenthood.  


Planned Parenthood receives nine-figure support from the federal government each year to deliver comprehensive women’s health services.  The agency receives these dollars through the Medicaid program as well as grant funding in the form of Family Planning Service Grants, offered through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).  

In 2015, more than $286 million was made available through HRSA for these Family Planning Service Grants, which does not include any type of Medicaid support.    


While federal funds cannot be used for abortion except in rare codified instances, it is Planned Parenthood’s association with this specific service line that has placed it front and center in the 2016 budget debate.  

The current situation with Planned Parenthood may come as a surprise to those who consider grants “small potatoes” when it comes to the overall federal budget which is dominated by entitlement programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.  However, in this particular case, disagreements over the inclusion or exclusion of grant funds in the budget has the potential to shut down the federal government.  This seems particularly surprising considering the grant funding in question essentially amounts to a rounding error in the context of the entire federal budget.


While this Groundhog Day is sponsored by Planned Parenthood, the ultimate resolution and impact on grant funding is likely to be the same as in past years.  

Accompanied by no shortage of political grandstanding, we are likely to see a short-term, continuing budget resolution passed prior to September 30th that will leave Planned Parenthood intact and fund the federal government through December at current levels.  


This is the most likely result considering Democrats in the Senate have enough votes to filibuster any spending bill that defunds Planned Parenthood.   

Even if a budget including reduced or eliminated Planned Parenthood funding somehow passed through the Senate, President Obama would veto any such legislation. In turn, Republicans are wary of being blamed for shutting down the government again, regardless of the root issue.


This outcome will give all sides additional time to come to agreement on a full budget that will be passed just prior to the New Year.  The 26 Federal Agencies responsible for grantmaking will experience déjà vu and will likely have to delay their grant program timelines to deal with the uncertainty over their annual budget.  

The end result will be a flurry of grant-related activity in the second (January-March) and third quarters (April-June) of the federal fiscal year.  These federal agencies will spend the last quarter of federal fiscal year 2016 (July-September) reconciling their budgets and preparing for FY2017.   And come September 2016, we will wake up to Sonny and Cher on the radio and do it all over again1.

1Reference to plot in Groundhog Day (1993), produced by Columbia Pictures Corporation

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