Congress returns this week in what is likely to be a challenging next four to five weeks. Congress will have to deal with funding for the current fiscal year, deal with a new full budget which covers the 2018 appropriations, and potentially wrestle with a new push by the Trump Administration on a repeal of the ACA. Also likely to come up in some form are the issues of immigration, the beginnings of tax discussions and various foreign policy hot spots.

Congress completed its longest continuous work session when they went into this spring break. The rest of this year is likely to be chopped up between various holiday breaks.  The House is scheduled to have a week off in between now and the Memorial Day break. The Senate will work from this week up until Memorial Day weekend.  Discussions and major issues such as infrastructure package, tax reform and the overall budget will have to be squeezed into some very tight time frames.  In the next months but for now:

2017 budget. Front and center will the government shut down this weekend? Funding runs out at the end of Friday and Congress has been discussing completion of the appropriations that runs through the end of September. The Congress had agreed to this short term continuing resolution at the insistence of the incoming Trump Administration at the end of last year. Now they’re confronted with how to move forward in a Senate that will require at least a few Democrats to break any filibuster. The Democrats are drawing some clear lines in the sand.  These include opposing any funding for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and continuing an important funding stream within the ACA.  The Democrats could block a bill and possibly force a government shutdown.

Initially the Democrats and Republicans had been building on work of last fall to come to an agreement to separately decide on funding for each of the 12 appropriations areas.  There were signs of behind the scenes progress just before the spring break but in recent days the Administration and President Trump have been playing a more vocal role.

The White House had sent up a proposed continuing resolution or budget for 2017 that included significant Defense Department increases and cuts in other domestic programs for the last five months of the fiscal year.  Congressional Republicans were offering negative comments on those cuts but now the administration appears to be pushing back.

Regardless of any attempted efforts to pass an ACA repeal, health care comes into play in the final design of 2017 funding.  The question is will the Administration continue provide $7-$9 billion in subsidies that help offset some of the co-pays and deductibles for individuals making less than 250 percent of poverty and who purchase coverage through the health care exchanges under the ACA. The issue involves a legal challenge under Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).  A court upheld the challenge late last year but the court also agreed to delay any implementation until after the election and then this year to delay any implementation of the decision based on Congressional Republican and Administration requested delays.

Now that repeal has stalled out the decision is front and center for Congress.  Will they continue the funding or will they perhaps get blamed for undercutting access to health care? President Trump may have unintentionally provided an assist to advocates by highlighting the issue and his willingness to cut-off funds.  Senate Minority Leader Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has indicated that this funding will be a line in the sand for the Democrats.

What happens next on the CR could be a short extension of three to four days, a week extension both to allow more negotiation, a CR that flat funds the government with no changes for the last five months or a government shutdown. The wild card is what the President will say or do.

Health care and the ACA repeal. In addition to the subsidy issue is the possibility of another attempt at a repeal of the ACA.  The President has been pushing for another attempt in recent days.  Negotiations have been taking place between a few conservatives and more moderate Republicans that would give states the ability to waive some current law requirements instead of a flat-out repeal of key requirements such as the essential health insurance benefits currently in law.  It is unclear how many votes can be moved.  Based on reports that have been reaching the nation’s Capital, a repeal is still stirring a lot of controversy at town hall meetings over the last two weeks of recess.  House Republican members may also have memories of House Democrats action on an environmental package passed in 2009 that later died in the Senate leaving members without an accomplishment but vulnerable to pollical attack in the 2010 election.  A House-written ACA repeal could meet the same fate in this year’s Senate.

The 2018 budget. The administration is expected to follow up last month’s “skinny budget” outline with a full and complete budget proposal to be released sometime in mid-May. When that happens, it will detail all the various cuts and program eliminations that would have to happen to meet the top line spending numbers the Administration did propose.

CWLA expects that SSBG will be a prime target for elimination since the current Budget Director was a proponent of the elimination in past congresses.  The full budget is likely to include numerous other controversies and give a clear line of how they will make large cuts within Health and Human Services. This likely means a whole set of new controversies.

Read the 2017 CWLA Legislative Agenda along with more detailed background information including: Protect the ACAProtect MedicaidSSBGChild Care, Child Welfare & Block Grants, Home Visiting, Immigration, and the Children’s Budget and National and State Factsheets deals with all of these issues.