National WIC Association

Weekly WIC Policy Update

December 4, 2017

U.S. Senate Passes Tax Plan That Increases Deficit by $1.4 Trillion

Late Friday night, the U.S. Senate passed its tax reform bill by a vote of 51-49. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)–who objected to the bill’s significant increase of the federal deficit–was the only Republican to join the entire Democratic caucus in opposing the legislation. The House plans to vote today on motions to go to conference on the Senate’s tax bill, which means Republican leaders in the House and Senate will spend this week reconciling differences between each chamber’s bill. The Senate bill contains several key differences from the legislation passed by the House of Representatives on November 16–including whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate–but Republican leaders are optimistic that a final bill will be agreed upon and sent to the President’s desk before the December holidays.

The bill will also trigger “Pay as You Go,” or PAYGO cuts, which are required when a tax bill increases the federal debt, leading to a $1 million automatic cut to WIC and billions in cuts to other programs, including Medicare. Congressional Republicans argue that PAYGO rules have always been waived to avoid program cuts, and a waiver for the tax package is anticipated to move swiftly.

Economists have been overwhelmingly clear that the pending tax bills constitute a dramatic tax cut for the already wealthy and corporations, while increasing the tax burden on low-income and middle-class families. Importantly, both bills significantly decrease federal revenues and increase the federal deficit by over $1 trillion, which would, in turn, impact the funding available for discretionary federal programs like WIC.

Two-Week Continuing Resolution Expected this Week for FY 2018

With only four days left before the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires, Congress is preparing to pass another CR this week—this time, for two weeks--so that legislators have a bit of extra time to reach an agreement on a spending deal for the rest of FY 2018. House Republican leaders introduced a bill today that would provide a funding extension until December 22. In addition to extending government funding for two weeks, the House’s CR would also release some funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which Congress has failed to reauthorize for the past two months. The bill would release some money for states running out of CHIP funds, but the patch would not include new money.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate is expected to pass a “clean” two-week spending bill this week, meaning that no policy changes will be attached other than a funding extension. A “clean” two-week CR would set the stage for heated deliberations in the coming weeks about how to fund the government past December 22.

Democrats are expected to use the following spending bill–which will likely take the form of a third, roughly one-month CR until mid-January and which will require bipartisan support to pass in the Senate–to push for certain Democratic priorities including protection for Dreamers, young adults who immigrated to the US as children. Although Republicans hold the majority in the House and Senate, they have had a difficult time passing spending bills recently without Democratic help. This precedent gives Democrats leverage to use the FY 2018 spending bill as a vehicle to protect Dreamers from deportation, and to advance other priorities.

This bill may also contain a waiver for “Pay as You Go,” or PAYGO rules, which trigger automatic cuts to certain programs when new spending bills add to the federal debt. The current Republican tax bill that is making its way through Congress will trigger PAYGO cuts, leading to a $1 million automatic cut to WIC and billions in cuts to other programs, including Medicare. Congressional Republicans argue that PAYGO rules have always been waived to avoid program cuts, and a waiver for the tax package is anticipated to move swiftly.

Meanwhile, moderate Republicans, including Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), could demand that Republican leaders fulfill their promise to attach an Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance market stabilization bill to the third spending bill. The leading health care market stabilization proposal, from Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), may therefore be attached to the funding measure. However, this stabilization proposal is unpopular in the House, especially among far-right conservatives, meaning this issue could lead to further delays in the funding negotiations.

Another issue plaguing the spending negotiations is the question of how much additional disaster relief funding to provide to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Texas, and Louisiana. Policymakers from these states have criticized the Trump administration’s $44 billion request for additional disaster aid as inadequate.

Disaster Funding for WIC included in Senate Bill 2165 Introduced by Senator Sanders (I-VT)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, introduced a bill last Tuesday, the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act of 2017 (S. 2165), which would provide additional disaster recovery assistance for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. The National WIC Association worked closely with our Senate colleagues to ensure that this bill included an additional $14 million in infrastructure funding for WIC. This additional $14 million would be available to any state WIC agency responding to presidentially declared disasters.

The Appropriations Committees in the Senate and House have also been working on separate legislation to provide additional funding for disaster relief, and it currently seems unlikely that these committees will include infrastructure funding for WIC in their bills. The Appropriations Committees have the ultimate authority on supplemental funding bills such as this one.

Even if WIC infrastructure funding is not included in the final disaster relief package, NWA will remain pleased that this funding request was included in S. 2165, as the presence of WIC in this bill elevates the program within the disaster relief conversation and will hopefully push policymakers in Congress and the Administration to consider WIC during future deliberations.