CHN: Some Progress, but FY20 Spending Will Need Another Stopgap
With government funding set to run out in less than two weeks, appropriators in Congress are in talks over the length of the next stopgap spending bill, known as a Continuing Resolution or CR. The current CR, which was passed just before the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, provides funding for all government agencies through Nov. 21. Fights over spending allocations amongst the various government agencies and funding for President Trump’s border wall have held up progress in getting spending bills through Congress.
Some progress was made when the Senate on Oct. 31 overwhelmingly passed (84-9) its first package of spending bills, a “minibus” consisting of four of the required 12 bills: Agriculture; Transportation – Housing and Urban Development (THUD); Commerce – Justice – Science; and Interior – Environment. The combined spending package totaled $214 billion. According to CQ, this is roughly $5 billion less than the House versions of these bills.
However, as Senate Republicans tried to move to the next package – which would have consisted of spending bills for the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, State-Foreign Operations, and Energy-Water – Senate Democrats blocked the measure from coming to the floor. Senate Democrats cited inadequate funding levels in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, which they saw as far too low because of a decision by the Senate Republican leadership to reduce Labor-HHS-Ed funding in order to add $5 billion for border wall construction and other funds for anti-immigrant enforcement in the separate Department of Homeland Security spending bill, which would lead to human needs programs being harmed. The White House has requested $8.6 billion for wall construction – though recent reports are that President Trump may be willing to accept a lower level of funding – and is insisting upon President Trump’s authority to transfer funds from the Department of Defense to the wall. Democrats oppose any funding for a wall and want to bar transfers of defense funds to the wall. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Senate Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill funding would be cut 1.4 percent below its inflation-adjusted 2019 level, a cut of $2.7 billion. The Department of Homeland Security bill as approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, on the other hand, would receive an inflation-adjusted funding increase of 4.3 percent, or $2.1 billion.
In addition, Senate Democrats opposed moving forward with the package because House and Senate appropriators still haven’t agreed upon the topline spending limits for each of the 12 bills, known as 302(b) allocations. The House 302(b) allocations were passed before a bipartisan budget deal was agreed to by both the House and Senate, which set overall spending levels lower than the total spending agreed to in the House.
With progress slowed, Congress will need to pass a second CR to keep the government open after Nov. 21. The most recent reports suggest that Congress might pass a CR to last through December 20, by which time negotiators will have worked out final funding details for all appropriations bills. Most Democrats and Republicans oppose a full-year CR, which would grow more likely if the next CR extends into February or March. President Trump recently did not rule out the threat of a shutdown. Members of Congress in both parties have no enthusiasm for that. The possible collision of an impeachment trial in the Senate and final work on funding bills opens up further uncertainty.
In the likely event of another CR, most government agencies and programs will see flat FY19 funding levels during this time; a few so-called ‘anomalies,’ or adjustments to funding levels, will likely be included for select programs. Advocates are urging Congress to include the full-year direct funding for the 2020 Census in the CR to avoid disruptions in the launch and implementation of the mandated decennial count. Prolonged flat funding in an extended CR is hard on other programs as well, including expected increased costs for subsidized housing.
The CR in place now also includes a package of health care-related funding extensions for community health centers and for the enhanced Medicaid funds for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories through November 21. In addition, continued authority for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) must be extended. The expiring extensions will also need to be included if another CR is passed. In addition, advocates are asking negotiators to include a change in the SNAP rules so that, in the event of a government shutdown, USDA would be authorized to fund SNAP for 120 days after the expiration of the funding legislation. Currently, USDA is only allowed 30 days of funding after a shutdown, which caused serious problems during the most recent 35-day lapse. Other mandatory basic needs programs have authority to continue operating longer during a funding lapse.