Health Center Federal Policy

A Roller Coaster Week in Washington

By: John Sawyer

Last week started with excitement over the visit of a pope, and ended with the resignation of the Speaker of the House. The result? In the short-term, a government shutdown will likely be averted, for two months. In the long term (and in this case anything beyond December 11 counts as long-term) the picture is much less clear.

At the beginning of last week, even as all of Washington put its best foot forward to welcome Pope Francis, those of us who follow these things closely were taking odds on whether the government would shut down. Most experts saw it as an inevitability. Congress had not passed any of the appropriations bills needed to fund the government by the September 30 close of the Fiscal Year, and the prospect of a Continuing Resolution (a short-term extension of funding at current levels) seemed dim given a number of hot-button political issues caught up in the funding debate.

Yet that dynamic shifted by late Friday, with the bombshell announcement by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) that he would resign at the end of October, both from his role as Speaker as well as from Congress. Speaker Boehner, who was instrumental in negotiating this year’s 2-year cliff fix for health centers, said he had planned to resign by the end of the year, but woke up Friday morning and decided “today’s the day.”

Boehner’s announcement had the almost immediate effect of making a shutdown less likely, since the presumption is he’ll now be able to pass a “clean” Continuing Resolution with Democratic votes. That resolution, which will keep the government open until December 11, easily passed the Senate on Monday by a vote of 77-19, and is expected to pass the House later this week.

The new speaker is likely to be Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), though many members are running for the other key positions in the leadership. They and other Members will have their hands full when the expected CR expires in December. Not only will there be the renewed prospect of a government shutdown, but Congress must find a way to address several other looming issues: hitting the federal debt ceiling, the expiration of the highway trust fund and export-import bank, and the desire by many to see a larger budget agreement that lifts current caps on both domestic and defense spending.

It will be an interesting couple of months.