Congress has been clear that its’ top priority was sending a tax bill to the President before Christmas. But it was a self-imposed deadline rather than a legal one and it delayed attention to the other pressing things facing statutory deadlines. Here is a quick run-down of the legislative items that are running out of time:
1) The CR – The government shuts down at midnight Friday if Congress does not pass a new Continuing Resolution. If that CR goes into 2018, Congress must also address the dreaded automatic, across the board cuts known as sequestration.
2) CHIP – funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers 9 million kids, lapsed on September 30th. States have essentially been using cash management strategies to keep the program running since then, but many states are close to the end of that road. Without immediate action, some states will have to stop providing services at the end of January.
3) Disaster Supplemental – Remember Harvey, Irma, and Maria? The areas hardest hit have received some immediate aid, but Monday night House appropriators released an $81 billion supplemental spending bill that, in theory, help those communities rebuild. There is no statutory reason that this bill needs to be passed this week, but there is a big political one: representatives of those states and districts waiting for that aid have said they will not vote for the CR if the disaster component is not included.
4) Flood Insurance – this program expired at the end of September but was extended through the first and second CR’s. Likely that will happen again, since it is set to expire on Friday. The House passed a bill earlier this fall that reformed and provided 5-year authorization for the program, but the Senate has not so much as considered a bill in Committee, much less on the floor.
5) PAYGO – When the President signs the tax bill, it will create a huge, daunting new deadline: because the tax package is projected to increase deficits over the next ten years. Pay-as-you-go rules require an automatic cut equal to ten percent of the deficit each year to mandatory programs. Social Security is exempt. But Medicare is eligible for a 4 percent (roughly $26 billion) whack along with other programs such farm programs and others. The size of the tax bill’s deficit would mean a full cut to Medicare and complete elimination of these programs – that is, unless Congress votes to suspend PayGo for one or more years. Other than Social Security, like Medicare and Medicaid. Unless Congress suspends those rules.
Thursday night, the House passed legislation to deal with these issues but unlike the tax bill, all of the matters described above will need 60 votes to pass the Senate. And that means deal-making. That, combined with the super short time frame, means that all of these things have been jumbled together.
Close of business – Friday night is the government’s last working business day. Chances are no one wants to work Saturday. We know everyone wants to be home and not flying home come Christmas Eve, but, we’ve seen one or two day CRs in the past.
Did we mention that all of these things were not dependent upon passage of the tax bill? They weren’t. There was certainly no reason to wait on CHIP or disaster funding until this week. But having the conversation focus on the tax bill meant that disaster funding, for instance, could be rushed through with even more haste. The better to lard it up with wasteful spending that has no place in disaster funding, and more to the point, wouldn’t be there if the public and all of Congress had a hot minute to look at it.