It is unclear how long Congress will be in session this month but many expect that the session will not extend into October despite a calendar that sets October as adjournment date. Front and center will be the appropriations for FY 2017 which starts on October 1. There is little possibility that Congress will enact any of the 12 appropriations and that means they will need a continuing resolution (CR) of some duration.
There are internal struggles in the Republican caucus, particularly on the House side, over how long any continuing resolution should be. Some outside conservative groups are joining with some conservative Republican to oppose any “lame-duck” congressional session. They want an appropriations CR that extends well into next year (March).
That position became more of a challenge for Republican leaders last week when Senate Democrats made clear they will not support a CR that extends funding into next year. A counter to more conservative elements in the House are other Republicans who are concerned about such a strategy because the U.S. Senate could flip control depending on the presidential elections results and that could mean that Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) would be negotiating a budget instead of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell next spring. The Senate Democrats position means that Republican leaders have two choices: work out a deal with Republican votes only or negotiate a compromise with Democrats.
The administration would also like some priorities addressed even if the CR provides level funding for a few months. One priority is the need for new dollars to address the Zika virus. They may find some Florida and perhaps some other southern Republican support for such a request. In addition, there is still a push to address the Flint water crisis which also has been bogged down for many months. Senate leaders plan on taking up the Flint-related issue first when session resumes today but that approach may not be without controversy tied to overall funding issues.
Other issues fighting for attention include a mental health reform bill, increased funding beyond appropriations for the new substance abuse (CARA) legislation, debates over gun regulation, a push by some House members to impeach the IRS Commissioner and any other votes that offer the chance to hold a vote on election year issues.
In regard to the all-important appropriations, in mid-July the House Appropriations Committee Approved their funding bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (Labor-HHS). The Senate had acted on their bill days before and both are similar in several areas. The House bill and committee report reduces spending below current year funding and attaches a number of provisions the President would reject.
Overall the bill provides $161.6 billion which is a cut of $569 million below this year. It is also $2.8 billion below the Administration request. The $161 billion is for all three departments.
Gainers in the House process include the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which receives a $1.25 billion increase to more than $33 billion with lesser increases to special education and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). The losers include the Labor Department with restrictions on certain labor law provisions including the elimination of the Bureau of International Labor Affairs and its annual reports on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, more cuts to the ACA, elimination of family planning and teen pregnancy prevention funding.
Like the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved Labor-HHS-Education bill the House bill provides flat funding for all the key child welfare programs with one lone exception. The House bill provides a new $20 million through the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program to help build the child welfare prevention and services capacity within tribal communities and lands. A proposal offered up by the Administration and supported by CWLA.
There was no increase in funding for CAPTA state grants, left at $25.3 million, CAPTA discretionary funding increased by $1 million to $34 million, Adoption Opportunities ($ 39 million), Adoption Incentives ($37.9 million) and Child Welfare Services ($269 million) Promoting Safe and Stable Families actually loses $20 million in court funding pending a reauthorization which must be done by October 1. PSSSF discretionary funding is increased from the current $59 million to $79 million with the $20 million for tribes.
It is now almost twenty years since the Congress last passed all appropriations bills by the start of the fiscal year. In 1996 Congress sent an omnibus bill that combined 6 appropriations bills (including Labor-HHS) on September 30, 1996, a little more than a month before the re-election of President Bill Clinton. An additional seven appropriations bills (there were 13 bills instead of 12) were sent individually to the President before September 30.
What all that means is that over 80 percent of Congress lacks any experience with what is supposed to be the annual appropriations process and controlling the nation’s “purse strings” is supposed to be one of the main constitutional roles of Congress.
The Senate has passed all 12 bills through Appropriations Committee with the Energy and Water and the Military Construction bills passing the full Senate. The House of Representatives has passed the Defense, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction bills while the remaining bills passed through the Committee.
You can find the funding levels for key child welfare and children’s program with this CWLA 2017 budget chart.