CHN: What’s Left on Congress’s To-Do List

With the holiday season just around the corner, Congress’s to-do list remains long. Congress still needs to reauthorize the transportation bill to keep funds flowing to highway and public transit projects before the current stop-gap funding bill expires on November 20. On Monday, the House passed a two-week extension that would keep programs authorized through December 4 and give Congress more time to work on a longer-term bill; the Senate is expected to pass that extension this week. The House passed its version of a six-year reauthorization package on November 5, months after the Senate passed its version on July 30. Representatives and Senators will meet in conference committee to hammer out the differences between the two bills and come up with a compromise bill that, if passed by both chambers, will go to the White House.
The law governing child nutrition programs expired on September 30. Language in the current stop-gap Continuing Resolution (CR) means the programs will be funded through December 11, when the current CR expires. The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act sets the policy and funding structure for all of the federal school meal and child nutrition programs, including National School Lunch, Summer Food Service Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and others. Many of these programs are permanently authorized (subject to Congress funding their operations), but Congress reviews the laws governing them every five years. Other programs included in the law that are not permanently authorized, like WIC, are also funded as a part of the CR. Funding for some of these programs could get wrapped up in the larger appropriations bill that’s at the top of Congress’s to-do list.

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources re­leased a discussion draft of reauthorization legislation for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in July. The TANF block grant has not been fully reauthorized in recent years, but has instead been temporarily extended a number of times since it was last due for reauthorization in 2010. Authorization for TANF could also be extended as part of a larger year-end deal.

Advocates hope to see further movement of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. As noted in the October 26 Human Needs Report, the bill would eliminate the harsh three-strike mandatory life sentence, reduce federal penalties for some drug-related and other crimes, and address the extreme disparities in sentencing for crack versus powder cocaine offenses, among other reforms. The bill has strong bipartisan support.

The House and Senate passed different versions of bills to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act back in July, but action stalled after that. The House may vote this week to go to conference with the Senate, where differences between the bills could be worked out. Both bills would shrink the federal government’s role while giving more power to state and local agencies, but the House version is seen by many advocates as being more conservative. The No Child Left Behind Act technically expired in 2007, but Congress’s failure to pass a new education law since then means that NCLB remains intact.

The number of big legislative items left to be dealt with this year and the shrinking number of legislative days in which to deal with them means the future of these pieces of legislation remains uncertain.

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