Congress has than four weeks left to pass legislation in the 117th Congress and there are several important items that need to be addressed in that time.

Although there are still races that haven’t been called, news outlets have predicted that Democrats will retain control of the Senate and Republicans will gain a narrow majority in the House; with a divided Congress on the horizon, Democrats are feeling the pressure to get as many of their priorities as possible over the finish line before time runs out.

Appropriations. The federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution (CR) that expires on December 16th, 2022. House and Senate Democrats have drafted their twelve bills for the Appropriations Omnibus using the top-line defense and non-defense allocations from President Biden’s FY2023 budget request. Now the four top appropriators (dubbed the “Four Corners”) need to come to a final agreement for that top-line spending and then allocate funding for the various committees. In all likelihood, the top Defense number will increase and the top NDD (non-defense discretionary) number will decrease from the current version of these bills.

There is significant momentum in Congress to get this Appropriations process done before the end of the year. Both Senator Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Shelby (R-AL), the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, are retiring this year and are hoping to get one more bipartisan budget done under their joint watch. Additionally, Republicans are wary of kicking the budget into next year because they don’t want a huge spending bill to be the first thing they tackle with their new House majority.

CWLA has weighed in with Appropriations Committee staff on the following priorities:

  • Appropriate the amounts in the Senate Labor HHS bill for CAPTA State Grants ($110,091,000) and CB-CAP Child Abuse Prevention ($75,660,000).
  • Appropriate the House figure of $50 million for the Adoption Opportunities Program.
  • Appropriate the Senate bill number of $94,515,000 for Title IV-B part 2, Promoting Safe and Stable Families Discretionary.
  • Appropriate the House bill amount of $45,257,000 for Chafee Education and Training Vouchers.
  • Maintain the $1 billion increase in both budgets for the Child Care and Development Block Grant.
  • Maintain the $25 million in the Senate bill to improve educational outcomes for children in foster care and $4.5 million in the House Justice bill for juvenile justice and child welfare collaboration.

Debt Ceiling. Democrats have indicated that they hope to address the debt ceiling during the lame duck session, but there is little to no interest on the GOP side of the aisle. The debt limit does not mean incurring new debt, but rather governs how much the Treasury can legally borrow to finance its debt, spending that already has occurred. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) already has stated there is no need to address the debt limit this year as it’s estimated to last until next summer. However, Republicans have also hinted that they would use a debt-ceiling negotiation to force changes in programs like Social Security and Medicaid.

It could be an option to use the budget reconciliation process to address the debt limit, but that isn’t guaranteed as it is unlikely Democrats have the 50 votes to avoid a filibuster, as some Senators have expressed a desire for a bipartisan solution. Democrats are considering a number of options to tackle the debt ceiling including legislation that would allow the administration to raise the limit unilaterally without a vote in Congress, elimination of the cap altogether or a measure that would raise the limit by a large enough amount that it wouldn’t need congressional action until after the 2024 presidential election, but it remains to be seen if they can gather enough support to get one these proposals passed.

Marriage Equality. The Respect for Marriage Act cleared a procedural hurdle last week, when 12 Republican Senators joined all 50 Democrats to approve a motion to proceed. This bill would guarantee legal marriage regardless of a couple’s sex, race, ethnicity or national origin. The law would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman and allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage. It is expected that the Senate will vote on their amended version of the legislation and send it back to the House for passage by the beginning of December.

Year-end Package. There are also negotiations underway for a large year-end package that could incorporate several important priorities for children and families.

Child Tax Credit. There is growing momentum and commitment among Democrats to include the Expanded Child Tax Credit in any tax negotiation, and as there are business and corporate tax fixes that Republicans want to see happen, there could be a path forward for a bipartisan deal.

Mental Health. There has also been more movement on the mental health packages that are still in play. In June the House passed HR 7666, the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-being Act, which reauthorizes and modifies a number of federal behavioral health programs, including creating a new set-aside for mental health prevention in the Community Mental Health Block Grant. On November 10, 2022, the Senate Finance Committee released its fourth discussion draft on mental health, this time focusing on integration of behavioral health services in primary care settings. There is hope that a larger mental health package could still come together and be included in the year-end bill.

Child Welfare. There are also multiple child welfare bills still on the table, including the CAPTA, Title IV-B, and MIECHV reauthorization bills. Coalitions are actively working with key committee staff to advocate that these bills make it across the finish line by the end of the year, as they make much-needed changes to existing legislation. CAPTA and MIECHV have bipartisan support and include increases in funding that could be difficult to replicate in a divided Congress next year.