CHN: Congress Avoids a Shutdown – For Now – With Two-Week Stopgap

With little time to spare, Congress agreed to a two-week stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. The House passed (235-193) the bill, known as a Continuing Resolution, on Thursday, December 7, with the Senate following (81-14) later that day, just one day before the previous CR expired. The CR will provide flat funding for most government operations through December 22. The bill also provides funding to allow states to continue to run the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through the end of the month, and extends funding for the federal flood insurance program through Dec. 22 for communities rebuilding from recent hurricanes. For more information on CHIP, see the related article in this Human Needs Report.

The purpose of the two-week CR is to give lawmakers additional 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). Unless a deal is reached, Democrats could filibuster a spending package in the Senate. Democrats 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. 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 possible poison pill riders, or controversial policy changes, that members of Congress may try to add to any spending package.

If a budget deal is reached, Congress could pass another CR on or before Dec. 22 that would fund the government through mid- or late- January. This would give them time to pass an “omnibus” spending package that would combine the 12 required spending appropriations bills covering all government agencies in one package.

The threat of a shutdown still looms, however. Some House Republicans are pushing leaders to pass a full-year FY18 Defense spending bill that breaks spending caps alongside a Dec. 22 CR for the rest of the government. Democrats are opposed to this, however, because they lose all leverage in the year-end spending negotiation if military increases are passed first. Democrats are instead pushing for other things to be included with the Dec. 22 CR, including full funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), 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, disaster aid for Puerto Rico and other areas, and other provisions they consider must-pass this year. More than 100 national organizations jointly signed a letter to Congress calling for must-pass legislation to be enacted before the holidays, 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. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is also among the many programs Congress has delayed reauthorizing. The JJDPA provides direction and support for state juvenile justice system improvements and has significantly contributed to the reduction of juvenile crime and delinquency, but has been overdue for reauthorization since 2007.

Democrats have also repeatedly said they will not vote for a spending bill that includes money for President Trump’s border wall, while President Trump has said he will veto any spending bill that doesn’t include this money.

Budget and Appropriations