Despite the efforts of former Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to clean up the legislative agenda before leaving, it looks as if Congress may be here late into the year. Based on public comments by some members of Congress, the appropriations process could still be a challenge despite the added flexibility provided by the new higher spending caps. Those challenges do have the potential to once again force a government shutdown confrontation come December 11.
The biggest challenge is less about funding and more likely policy riders to various appropriation bills. The funding itself might still be a point of contention as the additional $33 billion must be divided between domestic priorities. Within the Labor-HHS-Education bill there will be likely pressure for increases in National of Institutes of Health funding as well as some education funding as two of its top priorities.
In regard to policy “riders” which are legislative directives which attempt to limit the Administration or the President’s policies the most attention is focused on efforts to cut-off funding for Planned Parenthood. There are also a series of other issues that members of Congress will seek to address. In addition to the Planned Parenthood issue there may be efforts to restrict funding and undercut the Affordable Care Act, limit regulations in several areas but especially in regard to the environment. Comments offered last week by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS) indicated that riders were not off the table as Congress must meet a December 11 funding expiration date.
While grappling with final omnibus appropriations by December 11, Congress will attempt to deal with a few other expirations. Both houses will have to finalize a renewal of the depression era Export-Import Bank which has a bipartisan majority in both houses but is opposed by key leaders and factions in both houses. Along with that there is continued pressure to deal with a transportation reauthorization which was extended to November 20. Both houses have their own long term versions. The House has a three year reauthorization to match the available three years of funding but the Senate has a six year reauthorization with three years of funding. There is also a need for the Senate to extend the life of the Perkins College Loan program which expired in September. Finally there is the large package of tax extenders which has already expired. The business friendly package also provides an opportunity for extending parts of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Children’s Tax Credit. One issue that was taken off the table was the expansion of the SSI trust fund that was part of the broader budget package. It enacted some changes and extends the trust fund by approximately seven years.
As the House attempts to move some of the key pieces of legislation one of the key committees to several of these clean up measures, the Ways and Means Committee, picked a new replacement chairman to fill Ryan’s vacancy. The House Steering Committee made a decision to select Kevin Brady (R-TX) over Pat Tiberi (R-OH). Brady had the second most seniority on the Committee. The selection also has the potential to have some movement on the subcommittees including Human Resources. Brady was heading up the Health Subcommittee and when he gives that up other members may move around.