You may have noticed that we did not have a government shutdown for Christmas because Tea-Publicans in Congress agreed to a “clean” Continuing Resolution” (CR) to continue funding programs at current levels until January 19, when the real fight will take place.
Congress kicked the can down the road on a number of controversial issues that Congress had said it wanted to resolve before the end of the year. Who gets left behind in the spending bill:
Keeping the government funded was nearly an afterthought after Republicans celebrated passage of their historic tax bill and ditched town for the holiday season.
But in the rush to close out a year of turmoil in Washington, Congress left disaster aid, Dreamers and pensioners on the back burner, and gave only a temporary reprieve to children’s health insurance and spying powers. Even though lawmakers stripped out most additions to the spending bill, GOP leaders scrambled for days to clear it.
The indecision meant that Congress is in for a long winter of debate about the things that divide Republicans and another shutdown battle, with most funding expiring again on Jan. 19. Here’s a look at what was in the funding bill and what was left out:
— The Children’s Health Insurance Program gained a spending patch through March 31, but the fate of the long-bipartisan program remained in flux. Partisan squabbling continued over how Congress should pay for the program, after it was shunted aside earlier in the year as Republicans tried to repeal Obamacare and pushed their tax reform plans.
— The controversial snooping programs authorized under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were extended through Jan. 19. The provisions at the center of the fight allow the U.S. government to spy on foreigners’ internet and phone activity abroad, even if it picks up Americans’ communications along the way. But deep divisions within the GOP and across the two chambers made it hard to see a path forward for a long-term bill.
— The cash-drained National Flood Insurance Program was extended and will keep making payouts through at least Jan. 19. Republicans in the House and Senate remained far from an agreement about how to keep the program solvent long-term. Even before this year’s deadly hurricane season, the flood insurance program was already $25 billion in debt.
— The Pentagon’s budget was provided an extra $4.6 billion for missile defense programs and repairs to two badly damaged Navy destroyers. Congressional leaders still did not agree how much to spend on overall defense spending (or nondefense) for fiscal year 2018.
— The Veterans Choice Program, which allows some veterans to see private doctors and use private hospitals, was given another extra $2.1 billion (the same amount it received in August) to last into fall 2018.
— Both chambers easily agreed to waive federally mandated PAYGO cuts [to Medicare] that would have been triggered by the GOP’s $1.5 trillion tax law next year. This was the only item on Congress’ checklist that won’t need a fix at all in 2018.
What Congress left behind:
— Roughly $81 billion in disaster aid was pulled out of the spending bill at the last minute after facing resistance among some House conservatives and Democrats who demanded more funding for Puerto Rico. A separate bill that already cleared the House will now be considered by the Senate in January.
— Democrats ultimately backed down on their threats to hold up the spending bill until they secured a fix for so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the country as minors. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has worked toward a compromise bill that could reach a vote in January.
— Funding for looming pension shortfalls was again left out of the spending bill, despite pushes from a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers. Congress has been asked to chip in for pension plans for miners, Teamster truck drivers and food service workers to avert insolvency in the next few years.
Helaine Olen of the Washington Post adds, As lawmakers rush home, a lot of vulnerable people are in limbo:
[L]et’s not forget that there are a number of very big, unresolved issues [Congress] left behind.
And those issues involve the lives of millions of very vulnerable people, whose fates are, right now, in limbo. Here’s a quick list:
- As I write, the Trump administration is considering moving forward with an all-but-unthinkable-sounding plan to separate parents and kids if they are intercepted while entering the United States without legal permission.
- Hundreds of thousands of “dreamers” don’t know whether they will receive legal protections before their protected status expires for good.
- Long-term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program remains mostly unresolved; the program benefits 9 million children.
- The repeal of the individual mandate as part of the tax overhaul could result in millions uninsured — and there’s no telling whether Republicans will agree to try to stabilize the insurance markets.
We’ve become inured to the cruelty of it all. There are so many things the Trump administration and congressional Republicans do that could or will result in unbelievable harm to many Americans that it sometimes seems impossible to keep up with it all.
Let’s run though all of them.
Undocumented families: The Post reports that as part of the Trump administration’s attempt to crack down on unauthorized immigration to the United States, authorities may begin to separate parents and children if they are caught entering the United States.
The backstory is that in November, the number of undocumented families intercepted increased by 45 percent. So now the new policy is designed to dissuade families from trying to enter. As one DHS official put it: “People aren’t going to stop coming unless there are consequences to illegal entry.”
This is not how it works now. Families are either housed together or released pending the resolution of their status. Moreover, as of now, when children are caught by authorities entering the United States without legal permission, they are frequently turned over to a parent, even if that parent is not documented. The Department of Health and Human Services, which arranges for that, does not inform ICE about that. That would change if this plan is enacted, effectively resulting in more children remaining in federal custody.
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will decide whether to go forward with these in the near future.
CHIP: Congress allowed funding for the program to lapse. Only after Republicans’ tax bill passed and quotes of desperate parents appeared in newspapers did Congress turn to the matter. So lawmakers used the short-term bill funding the government to temporarily extend CHIP funding, too.
But the reprieve is so temporary that it’s hard to believe it will relieve people’s concerns about whether they will be able to take their children to the doctor in the future. CHIP is a popular program with bipartisan support, so it’s hoped it will be funded on a longer-term basis shortly. But Republicans have already attempted to turn it into a political hot potato: When House Republicans passed a five-year CHIP funding bill last fall, they attached cuts to the Affordable Care Act to it, with the result that no Democrat voted in favor. So we don’t know for sure what will happen next year.
The dreamers: These are the people brought to the United States illegally as children. The Obama administration granted them temporary reprieve from deportation and allowed them to reauthorize work permits every two years under an executive action, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which now covers about 690,000 people.
In September, Trump ended DACA, but on a six-month delay, saying he wanted Congress to come up with a permanent solution. But Republicans declined to act to protect the dreamers as part of the end-of-year funding deal, despite Democratic protests. That means 690,000 people — who did nothing wrong other than have parents bring them to the United States as children — literally do not know whether they will still have protections, potentially facing upended lives.
It seems likely some sort of resolution will be found. Frank Sharry, the executive director of the pro-immigration America’s Voice, had a good Twitter thread predicting a resolution: Basically, Democrats have a lot of leverage because Republicans will need their votes to accomplish must-pass legislation next year, and Republicans may be loath to get tagged with doing nothing for the dreamers in an election year. (Flake: Senate will vote on DACA bill to protect young immigrants in January.) Still, the dreamers are in a situation of terrible uncertainty right now.
Health care: The repeal of the mandate as part of tax reform will almost certainly cause premiums to spike in the future. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will increase the number of uninsured people by 4 million people by 2019 and 13 million by 2027.
Over time, fewer young and healthy people are likely to sign up, which will result in a sicker — and more expensive to cover — pool of people seeking coverage, which will cause further prices increases, which will drive more people out of the market. It’s possible that the impact of mandate repeal will not be as bad as we expect, but we just don’t know. If it is bad, will Republicans agree to congressional action to stabilize the markets? (Sen. Susan Collins’ side deal for her GOP tax vote). We don’t know that either. Trump keeps saying the Affordable Care Act has now been “repealed,” which, while false (9 million just enrolled), doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that Republicans will be willing to take constructive action.
All this leaves millions of people hanging, and we simply can’t say with any confidence what will happen to resolve all these situations.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.
You have a little more than three weeks to avert a government shutdown and to lobby your members of Congress to get off their lazy butts and to take action on these controversial issues that are hanging fire.