Health Center Federal Policy

Congress is Back in Session and Dealing with Many Contentious Issues and Looming Deadlines

By: Abigail Pinkele

With the end of summer and Labor Day behind us, Congress also has to get back to work and Members face a number of impending policy and fiscal deadlines they must tackle before the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. With only 12 working days on the schedule before the end of September, this will be no easy task and the contentious political environment over a number of issues, including the lead up to the 2016 elections, will only increase the level of difficulty Congress will have as they work to pass any legislation.

One critical deadline Congress must address is the expiration of government funding by September 30th. The Appropriations Committees in both the House and Senate have taken action on a number of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 bills, but none have made it President Obama’s desk for signature. This year, like FY2015, has proven difficult for the appropriations process and the Labor, Health, and Human Services (LHHS) bill, which contains funding for health centers, is always one of the hardest and frequently the last to pass. As discussed in a previous blog, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have acted on the LHHS bills, but final passage remains uncertain along with the rest of the appropriations bills for FY2016.

These difficulties with the appropriations bills stem from disagreement on budget process for FY2016 and because Republicans and Democrats have yet to sort out their differences on the broader question of how to stay under the budget caps as laid out under the original Budget Control Act. The two year Murray-Ryan deal, which increased discretionary spending, will expire at the end of FY2015. As FY2015 draws to a close, Congress will once again have to decide whether to lift the budget caps to accommodate increased spending or to allow across the board funding cuts, known as sequestration, to go forward as required by the law in order to stay under the budget caps. This question has proven to be difficult and one that will likely have to be addressed in order for either chamber to muster the votes to pass any appropriations bills.

It is more likely Congress will work to avert a government shutdown and buy some time by passing a short-term funding extension, known as a continuing resolution (CR), keeping federal funding at FY2015 levels, likely for several months while they work on a long-term deal. Yet even prospects for a CR are cloudy, given the number of high-profile political issues (funding for Planned Parenthood, disagreements over the confederate flag, and others) that must be addressed one way or another in that context.

While NACHC and health center advocates are tracking government funding, that is only one hurdle and deadline Congress must address. The other deadlines and issues facing Congress are:

  • September 17-60-day window for Congress to review Iran nuclear deal ends
  • September 30- expiration of:
    • Government funding
    • Airport and Airway Trust Fund (FAA reauthorization)
  • October- expiration of Internet Tax Freedom Act
  • October 29- expiration of Surface Transportation and Highway Trust Fund
  • Late October or later, Treasury’s “extraordinary measures” expected to be exhausted and the debt limit must be addressed. It was previously suspended until March 15, 2015, but extraordinary measures have been used since that time.
  • December 18- expiration of highway funding
  • Tax extenders: the extenders expired on Dec. 31, 2014, and leaders in the Senate and House have pledged to avoid waiting until late this year to enact another extension.
  • Export-Import Bank Reauthorization- the Export-Import Bank’s funding expired on June 30th.

Congress has their work cut out for them in a very short period of time. It’s also worth noting, Pope Francis will be visiting Washington, D.C. on September 22-24th. This visit will include a visit to the White House and Joint Session of Congress and those events will certainly slow down business on Capitol Hill. We will be tracking the work of Congress and especially the appropriations process. Stay tuned for updates here on the Health Centers on the Hill blog as well as the Washington Update.