Thanksgiving Recess this Week
Both chambers of Congress are on recess this week and will return to Washington, DC next week.
Tax Reform Bill Passes House, Fate Uncertain in Senate
Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed its tax reform bill by a vote of 227-205. 13 Republican representatives voted against the proposal, in addition to the entire Democratic caucus. Senate Republicans introduced their own competing tax reform bill two weeks ago. The Senate proposal contains several key differences from the recently passed House bill, including the elimination of the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which would result in 13 million people losing health coverage by 2027. Both proposals significantly decrease federal revenues and add to the federal budget deficit, which can impact the funding for programs that serve low-income families, including WIC.
The Senate bill is expected to be debated on the floor next week and could be voted on as early as next Thursday, November 30. However, the fate of the bill is more uncertain in the Senate than in the House. Several Republican senators have spoken out against various aspects of the Senate’s bill—including the repeal of the individual mandate and the bill’s potential effects on the federal deficit—and Republicans can only lose two members of their caucus in order for the bill to pass.
This week, on recess, members of Congress can expect to hear from local constituents on what they think about the emerging tax legislation. Quinnipiac University released a poll last week that reported that American voters disapprove of the Republican tax plan by a wide margin: 52% disapprove while only 25% approve.
Despite Republican infighting in the Senate and the unpopularity of the bill among Americans, Republicans in both chambers still hope to pass a reconciled tax reform bill by the end of the calendar year.
$44 Billion Disaster Relief Request from White House Proposes $59 Billion in Offsets
Last Friday, the White House asked Congress for $44 billion in hurricane aid, including funds designated for Texas and Florida. The White House request is far less than what was requested by Texas and Puerto Rico, includes little for Puerto Rico’s recovery effort, and provides no funds for California’s wildfire recovery. The request, sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), suggests that Congress offset the spending through $59 billion in cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Proposed cuts include $800 million from WIC, which would be in the form of a rescission of unspent funds. As a reminder, the FY 2018 House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations marks include $600 million and $800 million rescissions, respectively, in recognition of caseload declines. This request calls for moving the rescinded funds from the Agriculture Appropriations Committees to a pool of funding for disaster relief. If enacted, while it sets poor precedent, this request would likely have little impact on WIC’s ability to meet caseload needs in FY 2018.
It should also be noted that Congress has already approved two bills totaling $52 billion in aid for the hurricanes, neither of which contained cuts to offset the spending. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are excited about the prospect of enacting offsets to pay for disaster relief. It is therefore likely Congress will largely ignore the White House’s request and ultimately provide a higher level of aid for Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida.
FY 2018 Appropriations Timeline Uncertain
With so much attention on taxes, policymakers appear to have made very little progress on a FY 2018 spending deal that is needed to keep the government running past December 8. The process continues to be stymied by partisan conflicts over non-defense discretionary spending caps and immigration.
Treasury Department Signals U.S. Departure from Global Food Security Program
Last week, the U.S. Department of the Treasury notified Congress that the United States will cease contributing to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), an international public-private collaboration to support agricultural initiatives in some of the world’s most impoverished regions. GAFSP was launched by the Obama Administration in 2009 in response to global food shortages that led to political and social unrest in several countries. The Department indicated that the U.S.’s withdrawal from GAFSP is part of a broader effort to scale back foreign aid. The U.S. currently donates approximately one-third of GAFSP’s funds, with over $650 million in contributions. Other funders include Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.