CHN: Shutdown Averted with Stopgap Spending Measure through April 2017
With no time to waste, Congress avoided a shutdown by passing another stopgap spending bill. The new short-term spending bill, known as a Continuing Resolution or CR, will fund most annually-appropriated programs through April 28, 2017. Programs will be funded at the FY2017 budget cap levels agreed upon in the Budget Control Act of 2011, totaling $1.07 trillion (slightly above FY16 levels of $1.067 trillion). The House passed (326-96) the CR on December 8, with the Senate following (63-36) on December 9. President Obama signed the bill on December 10.
The CR contains several so-called ‘anomalies,’ or adjustments to funding levels. Some of these anomalies were celebrated by advocates, while others were not. For example, the CR contains much-needed funding for Flint, Michigan and other communities hurt by lead-contaminated water (for more information, see the related article in this Human Needs Report). It also contains additional funding for defense and war spending, the care of unaccompanied immigrant children coming into the U.S., preparations for a summer meal demonstration program benefiting low-income students, and for hurricane and flood victims. Advocates were glad that the CR contained funding to allow preparations to continue for the 2020 Decennial Census and contained money to fund the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes $500 million to states to respond to the opioid crisis. They were concerned, however, that the money for some of the initiatives in the Cures Act was taken from the Prevention and Public Health Fund established under the Affordable Care Act. They were also concerned that the CR did not contain additional funding for HUD-funded housing assistance vouchers and other programs. As rents increase, a lack of additional money will hurt HUD’s ability to continue funding existing vouchers, like those through the Section 8 programs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that a failure to increase the funding will deny vouchers to 100,000 families, a loss worse than the sequestration cuts in 2013.
The CR’s path was rocky in part because of the uncertainty over Flint funding, and also because a group of senators led by Joe Manchin (D-WV) sought at least a year of funding to cover coal miners’ retiree health benefits, which were scheduled to lapse for more than 25,000 retired miners by the end of January if no action were taken. Instead, those benefits were only continued through the term of the CR, forcing longer-term action in the new Congress.
The Trump Administration has said it wants to have a say in FY17 funding levels, which is why Republicans in Congress chose to pass another short-term CR in December rather than pass a combined spending package that would cover the rest of the fiscal year. Some advocates and elected and government officials (including some Republicans), however, are concerned that the Senate’s busy spring schedule will mean Congress will end up passing another CR in April through the rest of FY17. Twelve spending bills are required to keep the government operating (although more often than not some or all are combined in an omnibus spending bill); to date, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have each passed its own version of all 12 bills, but only five have been passed by the full House and only four by the full Senate. Only one, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, has been signed into law, and was included with the first CR passed in late September.