Spending Deadline Approaching on February 8
Last Monday evening, Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) that authorizes funding at FY 2017 levels through February 8, thus ending a three-day government shutdown. This CR is the fourth in a series of short-term funding patches since the new fiscal year began on October 1, 2017 and means Congress needs to pass another spending bill on or before next Thursday, February 8 in order to avoid a second government shutdown.
Congressional negotiators are optimistic that a final agreement can be reached before next Thursday. The agreement is likely to lift spending caps on defense and domestic spending for a two-year period. The White House has insisted on increased spending on the military, and Democrats continue to hold the position that any increase in defense spending must be matched with a similar increase in domestic programs.
While the immigration debate has long been tied to the spending negotiations, it is less likely that disputes over immigration will delay a spending bill before February 8. Senate Democrats have declared that immigration debates - including those over the status of the Dreamer population (immigrants without documentation who came to the US as children) - will proceed separately from discussions of spending bills. House Democrats have adopted the opposite view, demanding that the Dreamer discussion be included in any spending negotiations.
Last week, the White House released an immigration proposal that would provide a path to citizenship for the nearly 2 million Dreamers. However, the proposal contained many controversial priorities - including $25 billion for the border wall between the US and Mexico and drastic reductions in legal immigration standards, including eliminating certain family-based immigration provisions and the diversity visa lottery. This proposal is largely opposed by Democrats, who have opposed such changes to legal immigration policy and have taken border wall funding "off the table" after the failed negotiations before the last government shutdown.
Any spending agreement must be approved by at least 60 votes in the Senate, which means that Senate Republicans will need Democratic votes. The House of Representatives has proven able to pass spending bills with the approval of just Republicans, although members of the approximately 40-member Freedom Caucus have historically been averse to increased spending. It is unclear how much leverage House Democrats will be able to exert on the final deal and immigration debate.
Should Congress be unable to pass a spending agreement by February 8, the federal government will once again experience a partial shutdown. NWA will continue to update members on the evolving negotiations and the probability of a second government shutdown.
President Expected to Deliver State of the Union Address Tomorrow
Donald Trump is expected to deliver the State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow evening. The White House has touted a "forward-looking" speech that will emphasize bipartisanship, putting aside the partisan acrimony of the past few weeks that included a three-day government shutdown. Trump's speech will reportedly address the economy, national-security priorities, and trade policy. In addition to calling for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, Trump's speech will also attempt to refocus the ongoing negotiations on immigration policy, including by calling for the narrowing of legal immigration standards.
Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) - the grandson of Senator Bobby Kennedy - will deliver the Democratic Party's official response. Various other responses, including a speech by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), will follow the President's address. Several Democratic representatives are boycotting the address, which has traditionally been attended by members of both parties.
USDA Releases Farm Bill and Legislative Priorities
Last week, USDA released its 2018 Farm Bill and legislative priorities. The National WIC Association is deeply concerned by the priorities outlined for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. The priorities as outlined suggest a lack of understanding of the realities of American families facing food insecurity and the federal programs that serve them. Perhaps most concerning is the emphasis on work as part of federal nutrition programs. Research shows that adding work requirements to federal assistance programs does not move people out of poverty or help them get jobs. Instead, we should expect that work requirements attached to nutrition programs will lead to increases in food insecurity rates.
Another area of particular concern to NWA in the USDA priorities is the discussion of improving the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) process. NWA supports implementation of the changes recommended by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee that reviewed the DGA process and published recommendations in 2017. However, making these changes should not stymie the process of producing Dietary Guidelines for the pregnancy and birth through 24 months population in 2020.
Senate Confirms Alex Azar as Secretary of Health and Human Services
Last Wednesday, the Senate voted 55-43 to confirm Alex Azar to be the next Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Mr. Azar is a former pharmaceutical industry official, having served as president of the US division of Eli Lilly & Co., a multinational pharmaceutical company, from 2012 to 2017. Mr. Azar also served as Deputy Secretary of HHS under George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. While Mr. Azar has promised that lowering drug prices will be one of his main priorities as HHS Secretary, many public health and healthcare experts are skeptical of this promise, given his industry background. Mr. Azar replaces Tom Price, who resigned from his past as Secretary of HHS in September after an investigation found that he had taken private charter aircrafts on official trips at times when cheaper commercial flights were available.
HHS is a key federal agency, administering 115 health and human service-related programs through 11 operating divisions, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the Indian Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and others.
Senator Tammy Duckworth Announces Pregnancy
Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) announced last week that she is pregnant with her second child, which will make her the first Senator to give birth while in office. In the House of Representatives, ten sitting members have given birth. Senator Duckworth says that being a mom has made her “more committed to doing [her] job and standing up for hardworking families everywhere.” Duckworth actively supports breastfeeding policies, introducing the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act, S.1110, to ensure private lactation spaces are available in medium and large airports.