Congress Must Find a Way to Fund Government Past January 19
Congress is working this week to arrive at an agreement on government spending in FY 2018. Currently, the government is being funded through a continuing resolution (CR) that expires next Friday, January 19. The government has been running on a series of short-term CRs, which keep the government running at last year’s funding levels, since the new fiscal year began on October 1, 2017.
A bipartisan spending agreement remains elusive, as partisan battles over immigration, budget caps, disaster spending, and healthcare stymie the budget negotiations. Unlike the partisan healthcare and tax fights last year, Democrats will play a role in developing any spending legislation. The final bill requires at least 60 votes in the Senate—where Republicans now hold only 51 seats after the swearing in of Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).
Disputes Continue over Immigration and Border Security
Democrats insist that any spending deal, whether it is another CR or a longer-term omnibus bill, permanently protect Dreamers, approximately 2 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. On President Trump’s orders, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) will end this March. As part of any deal that protects Dreamers, President Trump announced last Friday that he is pressing for $18 billion to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a proposal that has been roundly denounced by Democrats and only tepidly supported by Republicans. “We want the wall,” President Trump said on Saturday. “The wall is going to happen or we’re not going to have DACA.”
Republicans and Democrats in Congress, on the other hand, are seeking compromise legislation that strengthens border security and includes deportation protections for Dreamers. Democrats are demanding the deal be included in the spending bill that must pass by January 19, while Republican leaders say they would prefer for the immigration legislation to move separately this month. In order for Dreamer protection to be included in the next spending bill, Democrats say they are willing to pair it with what they call “reasonable” border security provisions that do not include a border wall.
President Trump plans to host a bipartisan meeting with policymakers later this week to discuss their differences on immigration and the border.
Budget Caps: Two Year Deal Likely, but Divisions Remain
Congressional leaders are negotiating a two-year deal to lift spending caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 that would force automatic spending cuts unless Congress acts to raise them. Republicans want to allocate most of the extra funding from raising the caps to defense, while Democrats are demanding parity between any increases for defense with increases for domestic programs, including WIC. Democrats are unlikely to vote for another CR without a deal to increase the budget caps.
Five Year CHIP Extension to be Included in Government Spending Bill
A long-term, likely five-year, extension of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will probably be part of the next spending bill. As a reminder, funding for CHIP expired on September 30, 2017, and Congress has failed to pass a long-term funding authorization for the program in the last three months.
The most recent FY 2018 CR, passed just before the holidays, included a short-term funding patch to keep CHIP funded through March 31. The CR gave the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) new money to transfer to states with funding shortfalls. Some state governments, however, have warned that the short-term funding will not be adequate to fund their CHIP programs through March.
Fortunately, the question of how to fund CHIP became easier to resolve last Friday when a new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) lowered the cost from $8.2 billion to less than $1 billion for the next five years. A lower impact on the federal deficit should make it easier for Republicans and Democrats to agree on a CHIP extension. Policymakers are working to reach a deal in the coming weeks as part of a larger government spending package.
Disaster Relief May be Included in Larger Spending Bill
Congress is also expected to address disaster relief for areas affected by hurricanes and wildfires, including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Texas, Florida, and California in the coming weeks. In December, the House of Representatives passed a standalone $81 billion disaster relief package, but the Senate failed to act before the new year – despite pressure from the Texas and Florida Congressional delegations. It remains unclear whether the Senate will take up the House legislation or fold disaster relief into a larger spending bill. Senate Democrats are insisting that the House funding levels remain inadequate to meet recovery needs, falling far short of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s request for more than $94 billion in disaster aid. House Democrats also highlighted a number of recovery priorities that were not included in the House bill – including funding to address Medicaid shortfalls and NWA’s request for $14 million in WIC infrastructure grants to assist in disaster recovery. NWA is advocating for a more robust recovery package that will consider the needs of WIC clinics and staff as they rebuild from natural disasters.
Another Short-Term CR Likely
With all of these priorities being considered, it is possible that Congress may not reach a compromise before the January 19 deadline. If negotiations are proceeding, Congress may pass another short-term CR for a few more weeks to allow for more time to reach a final deal. Leadership from both parties are actively arguing against a federal government shutdown, but that result remains a possibility if negotiations reach an impasse. NWA will continue to update its members on the likelihood of a government shutdown and, if necessary, provide additional resources to prepare agencies, clinics, and staff.