CHN: Stopgap Spending Bill Keeps Government Open, But Misses Opportunity for Increases

With only a few hours to spare, President Biden on Sept. 30 signed into law a stopgap spending bill, known as a Continuing Resolution or CR, to avoid a government shutdown. The House and Senate both passed the CR earlier that day, with 34 Republicans joining all Democrats in the House and 15 Republicans joining all Democrats and Independents in the Senate in voting for passage. The measure (H.R. 5303) will keep the government funded from Oct. 1 – the start of the government’s Fiscal Year 2022 – through Dec. 3. It also included a few important policy extensions, including an extension of a temporary increase in WIC benefits and an extension of increased Medicaid federal matching funds for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, both previously set to expire Sept. 30.

Just a few days earlier on Sept. 27, Senate Republicans killed movement of a bill that would have funded the government through Dec. 3 and suspended the debt ceiling through 2022 (see related piece in this Human Needs Report for more information on the debt ceiling).

Advocates hope Congress will use the time before Dec. 3 to pass all twelve of the required FY22 spending bills. Under a CR, most government agencies and programs see flat funding levels from FY21 spending bills, which were enacted under President Trump. The FY22 spending bills are the first ones in a decade that are not limited by the low spending caps for annually-appropriated (also called discretionary) programs previously required by the Budget Control Act. The FY22 spending bills laid out by the House, for example, would increase spending on non-defense (domestic and international) discretionary programs, also known as NDD, by roughly 16 percent over FY21 levels. Most education and housing programs fall into this category, plus many social service, public health, veterans’ services, criminal justice, homeland security, environmental and community development programs.

Funding for defense programs would increase by roughly 2 percent in the House FY22 spending bills. These increases closely align with the increases called for in President Biden’s FY22 budget request.

To date, the House has passed nine of its 12 spending bills, including seven that were bundled together and passed – along party lines – in July. The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved three bills but hasn’t yet reached agreement on how to divide funding among all the subcommittees (known as the 302(b) allocations).

However, appropriations bills need 60 votes – and therefore Republican support – to pass in the Senate. As Republicans oppose the higher nondefense and lower defense funding levels used in the House bills, Senate Democratic and Republican leaders will need to agree on both topline funding levels and subcommittee allocations to get appropriations bills passed. Another CR could be needed come Dec. 3, but advocates warn that additional stopgap bills mean lost opportunity to increase funding levels for human needs programs this fiscal year.