News From The Hill: January 22, 2018
The government re-opened following a brief mid-January shutdown when the Continuing Resolution (CR) keeping federal agencies operating at their Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 levels expired with no extension or alternative in place. The shutdown was quickly polarized around the immigration debate, but the high-profile confrontation masked other challenges facing Congress. Most notably, the twelve annual FY 2018 appropriations bills remain unfinished and legislators still lack an overarching budget deal to move the spending bills forward. Although Republican and Democratic negotiators have made progress there is still no agreement on the overall funding levels for defense and non-defense discretionary programs (the latter includes NIH, AHRQ, etc.). The unfinished spending bills are just one legislative item on a litany of pressing business that lawmakers opted to leave unaddressed at the end of last year and delay timely action on until the beginning of 2018.
In reopening the government, the Senate and House passed another short-term CR to level-fund all program until February 8th. With the progress being made in both spending and immigration negotiations, there is some hope that a final appropriations measure can emerge over the coming weeks (another short-term CR may yet be required though). It is important to note that legislators managed to resolve some of their pressing business when passing the CR and re-opening the government. The measure also included a six years reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and (another) delay in implementation of the medical device tax for two-years.
Given the critical legislative issues that remain outstanding, such as further supporting the work of community health centers and the National Health Service Corps, it is possible that the next CR or omnibus spending bill will incrementally address additional pending policy items. On the other side of the coin though, action is still required on divisive topics like immigration and the expiration of any CR holds the potential for another shutdown. Congress is under tremendous pressure though from various stakeholders to enact final FY 2018 appropriations and provide meaningful funding increases that have been pending since the fiscal year began in October.