FY 2018 Budget Resolution
Last Thursday, the Senate narrowly passed their FY 2018 budget resolution. The vote was 51-49, with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) joining with every Democrat and Independent to vote against the resolution. This week, the House will take up the Senate’s budget resolution and are planning to hold a vote this Thursday..
As a reminder, budget resolutions do not have the force of law and do not set specific funding levels for government programs. Rather, resolutions serve as the general framework within which Congress makes its decisions about specific spending and taxing levels.
In this case, Republicans in Congress are keen to pass a resolution quickly, as it contains what are called reconciliation instructions. These instructions will allow Congressional Republicans to pass a tax reform bill without needing any votes from Democrats (a simple 51 majority in the Senate is needed). The tax reform legislation that Republican leaders are pushing for will result in significant tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of programs serving low-income Americans, such as WIC. Republican leaders hope to pass a major tax overhaul before the end of the calendar year.
FY 2018 Appropriations
The Senate is aiming to finish committee markups of FY 2018 appropriations bills before negotiating an omnibus spending package to keep the government running past December 8, 2017 (when our current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires). However, the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Thad Cochran (R-MS), is not making much progress.
The delays in negotiating an omnibus spending deal are partly due to partisan clashes over how to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. Democrats and Republicans are clashing over the following issues: the building of a wall along the US-Mexico border, immigration, healthcare subsidies, Planned Parenthood, and disaster relief. In addition, Republicans are seeking to increase defense spending caps by $54 billion without increasing spending caps for non-defense programs, while Democrats will only vote for higher defense caps if those are matched on the non-defense side.
With all of these controversies weighing the process down, Congress may opt to just pass another CR through the end of the fiscal year, which would mean all programs would be funded at FY 2017 levels. If Congress does not pass another CR or omnibus bill before December 8, we could be looking at another government shutdown similar to the one we experienced in 2013.
Bipartisan Healthcare Legislation
The bipartisan healthcare bill aimed at stabilizing ACA insurance markets introduced early last week by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, garnered additional support later in the week as a bipartisan coalition of 24 senators—12 Republicans and 12 Democrats—signed on.
The agreement would provide federal funding for cost sharing reductions (CSRs) for two years in exchange for increased state flexibility under the ACA. The CSRs help to stabilize the individual insurance market and keep premiums down.
With the expected support of all Senate Democrats, the Alexander-Murray legislation could have the votes to pass the chamber. But it remains unclear whether the bill will actually make it to a floor vote, as well as whether President Trump and House Republicans will support the bill if it does make it through the Senate.
President Trump expressed initial support for the bill, but last week cast doubts by suggesting the bill was a "bailout" for insurance companies that he could not support. The bill's sponsors tried to explain last week that the CSR funding actually goes to consumers to keep premiums down, not to insurance companies.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said through a spokesperson last Wednesday that he believes the Senate should remain focused on legislation to end the ACA, not prop it up, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not yet taken a position on the bill. The Majority Leader is unlikely to bring the bill to the floor unless it has President Trump's support and the 60 votes needed.
As the upcoming FY 2018 spending bill would be the vehicle to fund the healthcare subsidies, this legislation would need to become law before December 8 when the current CR expires.
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
Federal funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expired September 30, leaving states to devise short-term fixes to keep their programs going for the last few weeks. CHIP has long received bipartisan support, but policymakers, distracted by the recent fight over the ACA, missed a key funding deadline and have been slow to extend funding for the program.
States have not started to cut their coverage yet, but they are relying on short-term patches to keep their CHIP programs running.
Nearly 9 million children are insured through CHIP, but now 4 million are at risk of losing coverage. If CHIP funding runs out, many participants would be shifted over to Medicaid coverage instead. Unfortunately, roughly 4 million CHIP enrollees live in states whose programs are not linked to Medicaid, so those participants are at risk of losing coverage altogether. In certain states, pregnant women could also lose benefits.
Federal funding for six states and Washington, D.C. will run out in December, while 25 additional states will run out of funding in the first quarter of 2018.
Committees in the House and Senate have reported CHIP funding bills in the past few weeks, but neither of these bills have reached a floor vote.
Lobbying Action: Tell Congress to act quickly to extend CHIP!
MomsRising is collecting signatures on an online petition to Congress to request an extension of CHIP for five years. Please sign onto the petition if you would like to raise your voice to protect healthcare access for the 9 million children currently enrolled in CHIP.
Disaster Relief Funding
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) scheduled a procedural vote today on a $36.5 billion supplemental spending bill to provide disaster relief to help residents of Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, and California. The bill, H.R. 2266, was passed by the House on October 12 and includes $16 billion in debt forgiveness for the National Flood Insurance Program and $4.9 billion in low-interest Treasury loans to forestall the shutdown of Puerto Rico’s financially troubled government. The flood insurance fund is projected to reach its borrowing limit today, meaning Congress must act swiftly to enable continued payments of damage claims from the fund.
Nomination for Chief Scientist at USDA
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has said that the committee could hold a hearing as soon as this week on President Trump’s nominee for the USDA position of Under Secretary for Research, Economics and Education (REE), Sam Clovis.
Clovis served as President Trump’s Iowa campaign manager and has worked as a fighter pilot, economics teacher, and conservative talk show host. Many people in the agricultural science, public health, and nutrition communities are very concerned about this nomination, as Clovis is not a scientist and is an outspoken critic of scientific studies linking human activity to climate change. Other causes for concern include that Clovis used to run a blog on which he wrote racially charged posts, once related being gay with pedophilia, and questioned whether President Barack Obama was born in the US.
Clovis does have powerful allies, including Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.