CHN: Another Shutdown Showdown in Sight

Members of Congress avoided a shutdown in December, but they are on the cusp of another possible shutdown yet again. The House and Senate passed another stopgap spending bill, known as a Continuing Resolution (CR), on December 21, one day before the previous CR expired. The current CR provides flat funding for most government operations through midnight on January 19. The bill also provides funding to allow states to continue to run the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) ostensibly through the end of March (although CHIP experts have said the funding will not last this long). For more information on CHIP, see the related article in this Human Needs Report. With just over a week before the current CR expires, it is expected that Congress will pass another CR the week of January 15, possibly one to fund the government through early- or mid-February.

The purpose of these numerous CR’s is to give lawmakers more time to reach a deal on topline spending levels for FY18, which began October 1. A bipartisan deal is required to lift the tight spending caps and automatic cuts (also known as sequestration) that are scheduled to go back into effect for FY18 and that would require a $5 billion cut below FY17 appropriations totals ($2 billion from defense and $3 billion from nondefense annually-appropriated programs). Republican leaders are reportedly considering a nearly $250 billion increase in these discretionary (annually-appropriated) spending caps over the next two years, with defense programs getting 62 percent of that total and nondefense programs getting 38 percent. Democrats have not agreed to this proposal, as they have been firm in their position that the principle of parity must be maintained; that is, any additional money given to defense programs should be matched by money for nondefense programs.

Unless a deal is reached, Democrats could filibuster a spending package in the Senate, which means that 60 votes would be required for passage. Advocates will also be ready to oppose cuts to mandatory programs such as Medicaid or SNAP as a way to pay for increases beyond the caps, as well as opposing possible poison pill riders, or controversial policy changes, that members of Congress may try to add to any spending package. Once a budget deal is reached, Congress could work on and pass an “omnibus” spending package that would combine the 12 required spending appropriations bills covering all government agencies for the rest of the fiscal year in one package.

The threat of a shutdown still looms, however. Republicans have resisted including certain other “must-pass”  priorities in the January 19 CR, including a full reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), parity in lifting sequester caps, opioid use treatment and other health-related programs, reinstating legal status for the “Dreamers” who have benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and disaster aid for Puerto Rico and other areas, although bipartisan negotiations are underway. More than 100 national organizations jointly signed a letter to Congress calling for must-pass legislation to be enacted before members left in December, including parity for increases in non-defense and defense items, renewal of CHIP, community health centers, and the Maternal and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, help for the Dreamers, and disaster relief. For more on these topics, see the related articles in this Human Needs Report.

Budget and Appropriations