“Determined not to shut down the government again, Republican leaders think short-term measures could be the best way to address both the ire within their caucus and their desire to show the American people they can govern.” (from Congressional Republicans Consider Using Short-term Funding Bill to Pressure Obama, Robert Costa, Washington Post, November 14, 2014.)
Funding for much of the federal government will run out on December 11. Congress should have passed full-year appropriations beginning this past October 1, but they enacted 2 ½ months of status quo funding instead. Now, House and Senate appropriators are hard at work coming to agreement on an omnibus bill that sets funding levels for everything needing annual approval, such as education, housing, public health, the military, environmental protection, etc.
That sounds like governing. It’s a bipartisan effort, by Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY). They are working to resolve differences to provide funding for the rest of the fiscal year, increasing some programs in order to respond to current needs.
If members of Congress want to show they can govern, approving such an omnibus bill would be the way to go. If they want to show they prefer hostage-taking and brinksmanship to governing, they should pass another few months of spending, leaving services in the lurch once again.
More than 160 organizations sent Congress a letter last week seeking full-year funding that responds to current needs. These human service providers, faith groups, labor, and other policy experts and advocates represent millions of people. A full-year omnibus bill could begin to meet needs for expanded early childhood education, rental housing vouchers, protecting the unaccompanied child migrants fleeing Central American violence, providing reemployment services for the long-term unemployed, and meeting urgent public health needs. The appropriators can utilize emergency funding for preparedness against the Ebola virus. We don’t know how the negotiations will work out. The Senate appropriators have included increases over last year in these areas; we don’t yet know what the House would propose for education, health, and labor programs. But in working out spending for the rest of the year, they can address pressing needs. Another stopgap measure would not.
Without full-year funding, Head Start centers, meals-on-wheels programs and housing authorities will not know for sure how many children they can serve, seniors they can feed, or rental housing vouchers they can distribute. So they will serve fewer than they might otherwise have been able to. Children who have escaped violence will get minimal services, and serving them may mean other refugees will go unserved.
Those in Congress who want to force this kind of treading-water on agencies are holding children, seniors, and poor families hostage. Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) and Speaker Boehner (R-OH) know that threatening a government shutdown to try to stop the health care law or the President’s anticipated executive order regarding immigrants is really, really not a good idea. Not everyone in their caucuses agrees.
But whatever the brinksmanship does, it sure won’t be governing.