Today the Senate, on a bipartisan basis, reached an agreement paving the way for ending the three-day shutdown of the federal government. The Senate voted 81-18 to invoke cloture (end debate) on a Continuing Resolution (CR)– the 4th this fiscal year – that would provide funding for federal agencies through February 8, 2018. As with previous CRs, funding would, by and large, be at FY 2017 levels and conditions. The CR also includes a six-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and temporarily suspends the following health-related taxes: 1) a 2-year moratorium on the 2.3 percent excise tax on the sale of medical devices; 2) a 2-year delay of the excise tax on high-cost employer health coverage (the “Cadillac” tax) until 2022; and 3) a 1-year moratorium on the annual excise tax imposed on health insurers for calendar year 2019. An extension of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) was not included in this CR. Funding for SDPI currently runs through March 31, 2018.
With debate ended, the Senate is expected to vote to approve the CR later today, then the bill will go back to the House of Representatives for a vote (where we understand it is expected to pass) and finally to the President, who has indicated that he will sign it. Previously, the House had approved their own version of a bill which would have extended the CR through February 16 but a bill must pass both houses in an identical form in order to be sent to the President for signature.
Late last week and throughout the weekend, Senate Republicans and Democrats blamed each other for the standoff on the CR. Among other matters, many Senate Democrats wanted the Senate to take action on the “Dreamers” or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which protects nearly 700,000 persons who, as children, were brought to the U.S. without immigration documents. President Trump had halted that program as of March 5, 2018, and many Senate Democrats wanted DACA protections included in the CR. Prior to the shutdown, bipartisan negotiations with the President over DACA, other immigration matters, and border security had broken down.
The Senate Democrats did not literally get what they wanted in this CR but Senate Majority Leader McConnell said today that if the Dreamers issue and other key matters are not resolved by February 8, then his “intention” is to “take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues, as well as disaster relief, defense funding, healthcare, and other important matters.” The category of “healthcare” would likely include an extension of funding for SDPI and community health centers. With regard to defense funding, it would likely require amending the Budget Control Act to increase the cap on discretionary defense spending – and many Senators want that paired with an equal increase in the spending cap for discretionary non-defense spending. Senator McConnell stressed that the Senate would take up legislation on these issues only if the federal government remains open. This is a rather tall order of legislative matters to consider within three weeks and the agreement does not/could not commit the House to any specific action.
The use of Continuing Resolutions, which hamstrings the ability of federal agencies to undertake new initiatives and wrecks havoc on grant programs and distribution of funds, speaks to the need to seriously consider advance appropriations for some programs (i.e., the Indian Health Service) whereby funds are appropriated two years in advance. Health care funds for the Veterans Administration are already on an advance appropriations basis. In addition, some programs, mostly education programs, are funded on a 9-month forward funded basis. For example, most core Bureau of Indian Education funding for K-12 schools and the tribal colleges (except Haskell Indian Nations University and the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI)) is appropriated on a forward funded basis and the appropriations committees have indicated an interest in extending this forward funding schedule to Haskell and SIPI.
We will continue to follow the Continuing Resolution and the re-start of federal government operations.