FY 2017 Funding Update
Late last night, US House and Senate negotiators reached a bipartisan deal on a $1.1 trillion spending bill for the remaining five months of FY 2017. The 1,665-page legislation comprises the 11 unfinished FY 2017 appropriations bills, including the Agriculture Appropriations bill, which sets funding for WIC. While Republicans control the House, Senate, and the White House, congressional Democrats held some leverage in the spending negotiations as their votes will be needed in the Senate, and likely the House, for passage of the bill. The Senate needs 60 votes to advance legislation, meaning the 52 Republicans will need help from at least eight Democrats.
In order to secure votes from Democrats, appropriators decided not to include two key Trump administration requests in the compromise measure: Funding for the construction of the border wall between US and Mexico and $18 billion in cuts to domestic agencies. The bill does appropriate $1.5 billion for border security, but this funding cannot be used for the border wall or for hiring additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which Trump has sought to shrink dramatically, would receive a 1% reduction in funding and no staff cuts in the current measure. Democrats also successfully excluded many Republican-backed policy riders from the bill, including one that would have blocked federal funding from being used to reimburse Planned Parenthood clinics.
With regard to WIC, the spending bill maintains WIC’s FY 2016 overall funding level of $6.35 billion and maintains level funding for WIC breastfeeding peer counselors ($60 million) and WIC infrastructure ($13.6 million). In addition, the bill rescinds $850 million in unspent WIC funds. Because WIC funding has remained flat while food costs and caseloads have been declining, WIC has accumulated over $850 million in unspent funds. As a result, even with the rescission, the funding provided for the remainder of FY 2017 will most likely be sufficient to serve all eligible applicants.
The House Rules Committee has scheduled a hearing for 3 PM Tuesday to consider advancing the bill. A full House vote could be held as early as Wednesday. Congress will need to pass the spending package before the current one-week continuing resolution (CR) expires at midnight on Friday. Once the FY 2017 spending package is passed, appropriators can turn their full attention to funding the government in FY 2018. Their deadline for reaching an agreement on next year’s funding is September 30, 2017.
New Agriculture Secretary
The Senate voted last week to confirm former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture. The vote was 87 to 11 with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) voting against the nomination. Perdue is the first agriculture secretary nominee in 31 years to receive even a single no vote from the floor.
Affordable Care Act Replacement Update
Under pressure from President Trump, House Republican leaders continue trying to piece together the 216 votes from their own party needed to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said a revised version of the AHCA would come to the floor once there were enough votes. The revised version, which would give states more flexibility to drop consumer protections, has won support from the conservative Freedom Caucus but has failed to garner support from moderate House Republicans.
Vice President Mike Pence alluded to a potentially longer timetable for action when he was interviewed on “Meet the Press” yesterday. The Vice President said he hopes a bill can get to the president’s desk by the end of the year.