Congress Facing Down Another Shutdown

Federal funding for FY 2018 runs out on March 23 when the current CR expires. This current CR was designed only to provide Congress enough time to write and pass an omnibus appropriations bill wrapping all 12 bills into one package. But the appropriations part of the February 9 budget deal may not happen in time due to a growing list of disagreements over CHIMPS, conservative priorities of cutting funding in areas such as Planned Parenthood, poison pills such as elimination of the “Johnson Amendment” under tax law, and the President’s desire to block transportation funding to the New Jersey-New York area.

As a result rumors are flying including the possibility of a combination of full funding for all 11 appropriations with the 12th bill, the Labor-HHS-Education bill extended by a CR that would flat-fund everything accept a few carve-outs such as child care and opioid spending.

First, although the budget agreement raised the caps on “non-defense” spending by approximately $60 billion (or more like $50 billion when matched against what was permitted in 2017) House Republicans have been attempting to limit spending below the budget deal numbers by restrictions on CHIMPS. Changes in Mandatory Programs or CHIMPS are programs written into law as mandatory funding such as last year’s CHIP program. When the annual total of mandatory spending allowed is more than what states may draw down, some money may be left in the federal Treasury and the appropriations committees projects this as a savings. The CBO may not have counted this as an actual savings but the committees will and this has, for several years, allowed Congress more room under the budget caps.

The budget deal allowed for no more than $17 billion in CHIPS funding counted toward the budget caps which is down from the $19 billion allowed in FY 2017. House Republicans in particular, are pushing for big reductions perhaps by as much as $3 billion down to $14 billion. If this happens it would greatly affect the budget deal negotiated and passed on February 9, 2018. Potentially it may mean that the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittees will be stuck with a great deal less funding.

Second, “poison pills” provisions. These are cuts and program restrictions that are so contentious that may prevent 60 votes in the Senate and maybe even deny a simple majority in the House. It has been reported that key Democratic appropriations leaders were surprised by what they viewed as last minute demands by Republican leaders seeking riders and cuts in federal funding to Planned Parenthood, family planning programs and the elimination of the evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) in addition to some other restrictions.

Third, this omnibus bill may be the last big legislative train leaving the station in 2018 and as a result some are attempting to attach priorities. In what seems to be the way of the 115th Congress, one massive bill (see February 9, budget deal) serves as a catch-all for various bills and legislation. As a result some are seeking things such as elimination of the so-called 1954 Lyndon Johnson amendment which the then-Senate Minority Leader Lyndon Johnson was able to get passed into the tax code restricting the political activity of tax-exempt churches and other non-profits. The repeal of the law was in the 2017 House version of the tax bill but was knocked out in the Senate due to restrictions in the reconciliation rules.

Fourth, the President now opposes a bipartisan agreement for federal funding for the New Jersey-New York Gateway Project that would create a new underwater tunnel between the two states to help replace or supplement two aging 100 year old tunnels. The long term project which requires a fifty-fifty match between the states and the federal government is viewed as a top national transportation priority. The long-term $30 billion project has been targeted by Mr. Trump in his conversations with Congressional leaders including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS). The President has been quoted as targeting Minority Leader Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). It is also thought to be a shot at Republican Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) who has not always been aligned with the Administration on priorities such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The term presidential veto has been dropped in some reporting this past week.

In the meantime, many advocates are getting concerned. CWLA joined onto a March 8 letter by the Child Care Coalition as well as a separate Children’s Budget Coalition letter with both letters urging Congress to honor their February budget deal. We are likely to find out how serious a problem we have regarding a shutdown on Monday or Tuesday when the House starts to reveal their debate schedule. For a CWLA summary of key programs go here. For a CWLA chart of spending go here.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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