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Voices Speaking

February 6, 2018

Guest Post: February Federal Update

Deborah Stein, the Network Director of the Partnership for America's Children

This article is a guest post by Deborah Stein, the Network Director of the Partnership for America's Children. It provides some much-needed context to the issues in front of Congress this month, and how they can impact children and families in Connecticut.

Things are happening at lightning speed in DC, so here is a brief update on where things stand.

February 8 Funding Deadline

The current continuing resolution (CR) expires Thursday, February 8. Congress is not expected to reach a spending deal for the rest of the year by that deadline. The open issue remains whether to raise domestic spending (that, is the overall sequestration cap) as much as defense; the bill cannot pass the Senate without Democratic votes since it needs 60 votes to raise the sequester caps, and the Democrats are fighting for increased domestic spending. There is no indication that Congress is close to reaching a deal on sequestration caps for non-defense spending.  Once they reach a deal, they can finish up FY 2018 appropriations, probably in one giant Omnibus bill. It's not clear how much time it will take to write the Omnibus once the caps are set.

The House is currently developing a fifth stopgap funding bill to keep the government open for six more weeks through March 23, which would take it past the expected date that Congress must raise the debt ceiling. Reports say that this will be a "clean" CR, with level funding on nearly all programs and nothing attached to it such as health extenders (community health centers and home visiting) or DACA.

The House stopgap funding bill may not come out until as late as Tuesday morning, February 6th. This late release is worrisome since the Democrats have their retreat Wednesday through Friday. Moreover, it's uncertain whether this CR will be passed by the House or Senate since Democrats want a deal on DACA and the House Freedom Caucus does not want to pass any more CRs. Though a number of members of Congress have expressed confidence that there will not be another shutdown, reaching a deal on another CR is not guaranteed at this point.

Debt Ceiling

The Congressional Budget Office said this week that the U.S. will hit the debt ceiling in early March and be forced to default on its obligations unless the debt ceiling is raised and it can borrow more funds. The Treasury Department separately urged Congress to raise the limit by the end of February.

Congressional leaders have said they prefer to pair the debt-ceiling vote with other must-pass measures like the government spending bill. However, if the proposed CR passes, the government risks default if Congress waits until after the March 23 deadline of the next CR to raise the debt ceiling.

In past debt ceiling fights, conservatives have tried to tie raising the debt ceiling to changes to budget rules such as Balanced Budget proposals. It is not clear whether they will try to do that this time.

Congress Likely to Avoid Reconciliation Process in FY 2019

Reports from the Republican Retreat indicate that congressional Republicans might forgo including reconciliation instructions in their FY2019 Budget Resolution (remember, the Budget Resolution, which is not a law, sets for the rules for all budget legislation for the fiscal year, and reconciliation is the fast track process that only requires 51 votes in the Senate). They were expected to use the expedited budget reconciliation procedure to pass cuts to entitlement programs benefiting children and families, much as they used reconciliation to pass the tax bill in December 2017. There was also a possibility they would consider using reconciliation to take another shot at repealing the ACA. At this point, it looks like neither of these will happen.  This is very good news, if it proves true, and is a strong testament to the success of the fight to save the ACA and Medicaid last year.
 

Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
Tags:
Congress, Federal, taxes, Trump

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