The United States Congress returns this week after Veterans Day, for the first time since late September. Last week’s election set the stage for a new power structure which will have a great deal of influence on what this Congress does in the remaining weeks of 113th Congress.
One of the first orders of business will be what to do with the rest of fiscal year 2015 funding. Before Congress departed for the election they passed a continuing resolution (CR) that provides funding for all federal departments through December 11. Congress will have to decide whether or not to extend the funding for a few months into the spring which would lay the rest of this year’s funding in the hands of the new 114th Congress, or whether they want to make all final decisions for FY2015. Some staff appropriations discussions have been taking place during the election season in anticipation of a final bill package.
Whether they can complete the funding for fiscal year 2015 will depend largely on what the Republican leadership want to do. Providing only a short-term extension means the new Congress would have to deal with the current year’s funding straight off the bat in addition to focusing on FY 2016 funding.
There are a number of other bills that are in the same status. The Medicare “doc fix” which annually (since 1998) supersedes lower reimbursement rates to physicians through the Medicare program was only fixed through next March. Voting on some kind of extension now that might run more than a year or perhaps a permanent fix could remove what is sure to be a thorny issue for the new Congress if they don’t act before the new Congress is sworn in.
If the incoming Republican leadership negotiate with the Democrats to address the Medicare issue they may also look at some other issues that are due to expire next year. These issues would include a number of “tax extenders” or business tax breaks that also expire each year and are expensive to extend.
Other issues of importance to the child welfare community include a long term extension to the home visiting program, (MIECHV) and an extension of the children’s health insurance program (CHIP).
There were a number of publications that were circulating unattributed comments about the Republican leadership wanting to clear the deck for next year’s work. If the new Congress has to come in and deal with the appropriations as well as an extension of CHIP, Home Visiting, tax extensions and a number of costly items it could delay action on other issues that they will be faced with or they could all be wrapped in what would be a massive reconciliation bill.