Congress has approximately 7 legislative session days left before we reach the end of the fiscal year on September 30. It is not clear when and how the two houses will move on a continuing resolution (CR).
Congress will have no legislative days during the Jewish holidays and the Pope’s visit and speech to Congress and that means there are a limited number of days left barring a decision to extend work to weekends. It is the Republican leadership’s desire in both the Senate and House to pass a CR at level funding until mid-December but what is not clear is how the various factions within the Republican ranks will react to such a strategy. The House is likely to attempt to pass something this week.
A CR would merely extend funding for all programs at the 2015 level for a few months to allow a meeting of the minds between the President and Congress over a fuller extension of funding. But there are many members in the House who would like to “de-fund” the Planned Parenthood organization from access to any federal funds. Planned Parenthood does not get a designated funding source but as a health care services provider does receive Medicaid and Title X family planning funds. Some more conservative elements of the House are on record of opposing any federal funding extension if it does not specifically ban Planned Parenthood access.
In the Senate the dynamic may be somewhat different. There are five senators running for President and a debate on the budget, or any other issue, offers those senators an opportunity to shine on their issue free from the competition of the many other candidates running. Going into this week Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), one of those candidates, has been calling for a cut-off of Planned Parenthood even if it results in a government shutdown. That is not a view shared by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who feels that such a strategy will damage his party going into next year’s election.
A CR may give both sides a chance to negotiate a new budget deal at least for 2016. FY 2016 represents the sixth year of a budget freeze and it is taking its toll. In child welfare the two flexible funding sources Title IV-B Child Welfare Services ($269 million) and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families ($365 million) programs have suffered cuts because of the budget caps and those cuts have been made permanent in later appropriations bills. Those cuts are compounded by some mandatory funding reductions such as last year’s failure to extend $15 million in funds for Family Connections grants through the passage of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. In addition the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) was also reduced temporarily because of the sequestration budget caps. The tight budgets have also caused some to look for any funding so the Senate Labor-HHS bill has eliminated all $11 million for the Abandoned Infant program.
There was a temporary reprieve from the budget caps in 2014 but that restored the 2013 spending level. Under the current budget caps and sequestration non-defense discretionary spending will increase by two-tenths of a percent next year. That is slightly more than a $1 billion increase. That increase and more will be eaten up by some other designated increases. For example the Veterans Affairs budget, which is separate from Defense Department spending, will increase by more than $3 billion because of the way it is funds were appropriated. On the defense side, Congressional Republicans want a $38 billion increase in the Defense Department budget. They provide this through appropriations bills that circumvent the budget caps by calling the increase “emergency spending” and off budget. The President has proposed a $38 billion increase in defense spending but only if it is accompanied by an equal $38 billion domestic spending increase.
Where it ends for all of FY 2016 is also unclear. A CR that covered the entire year would not insure that programs will keep receiving the same funding. Due to some revenue issues and some spending increases such as the Veteran Affairs adjustments a CR at last year’s levels would require some cuts in one area to address increases in other areas as well as loss in certain revenue.