Would enactment of the Families First Act commit key Republicans leaders to protecting Title IV-E funding from being converted into a block grant? That is a question to consider in the waning days of the 114th Congress. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS) has made no secret of his desire to convert both Medicaid and SNAP/food stamps into block grants. As a past Budget Committee chair he has written and passed budget resolutions that did just that. Now he holds an overwhelming Republican majority in the House, a Republican Senate and a President who may go along especially if he gets his other priorities. Also on the Ryan target list is the elimination of the Social Services Block Grant and potentially new work requirements on some of these programs.
With most entitlements targeted for a block grant conversion, Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance will almost certainly be considered. There could be key Republicans however who might not want to go that route if they just agreed to amend the IV-E funding in the ways that the Families First Act does. In 1995, under Speaker Newt Gingrich’s vision, all child welfare programs (including the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act/CAPTA) were rolled into a block grant but there was bipartisan opposition in the Senate with President Bill Clinton prepared to veto that reconciliation bill.
Converting Medicaid and SNAP into block grants (as well as significant changes to Medicare) is a genuine possibility if Congress uses the reconciliation process that would prevent a Senate filibuster. Once a package is written by leadership and submitted for floor debate there may be very little chance to knock out some provisions during a reconciliation debate. During reconciliation, debate time is also limited. That makes opposition by key Republican leaders critical.
Senate Republicans hold a minimal majority of 52 votes in the Senate. As a result, Republicans leaders are looking at having two reconciliation measures in 2017 that would allow them to fast-track critical and controversial legislation. One reconciliation would target the ACA (see below) and another later reconciliation would be for a tax package, perhaps an infrastructure bill and the block grant proposals could help raise revenue to help pay for that and other measures.