Last week appropriations stalled out, reconciliation remained suspended and the transportation reauthorization moved toward an uncertain possible short term extension. The House has passed all 12 appropriations out of the Appropriation Committee but they suspended action over controversy in the Interior Department bill and amendments that would restrict the placement of the confederate flag on certain federal properties. As a result all appropriations floor debate has stopped. That has been true of the Senate Appropriations for several weeks. In the end it comes down to the larger issue of trying to come to a new agreement over budget caps. Most observers are expecting a short term continuing resolution (CR) when the new fiscal year starts on October 1 that could last as long as two or three months with the goal of reaching a mor substantial budget deal.
Another issue left hanging before the end of July is the use of a reconciliation bill. The budget resolution instructs key health care committees to come up with a reconciliation bill by July 24. That timeframe will also not be met and there appears to be some internal disagreement on the Republican side in how to use the reconciliation bill and what to do about an ACA repeal. It is likely that reconciliation would be used as a message bill on the affordable care act that the President will veto.
Finally in regard to the transportation reauthorization, the House has adopted a short term extension of the exhausted highway trust fund into December. The House passed a bill that will provide $8 billion in revenue to patch over the trust fund which is dependent on the gas tax. That tax has not generated enough money for the nation’s roads and bridges for several years. As a result Congress has been taking from the general fund since 2008 (approximately $62 billion). This latest extension was made possible by various offsets including the extension of an airport fee, and an adjustment on how taxpayers assess their estates in regard to paying taxes.
It is uncertain what the Senate will do with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wanting a reauthorization that goes at least past the next presidential election. Again the Senate is seeking a patchwork of funding not affecting the gas tax. One $80 billion package includes changes to federal pensions that would generate between $30 to $50 billion. That offset of using pensions may alienate too many senators to pass. The Senate still may follow the House proposal but there are some related matters that could bog it down. Congress must wrap it up soon as they reach the end of the summer session in two weeks.