Health Center Federal Policy

Congress Is Back…So What’s On the Agenda? Magic Eight Ball Says: Outlook Hazy, Try Again.

by, Federal Affairs Staff

There’s no shortagemagic8ball of hot topics for Congress to work on this fall: appropriations for Fiscal Year 2014, raising the debt ceiling again,, , immigration reform, a whole host of other non-health issues, and last but not least: Syria.  Yet with only 8 working days left in September and a whole host of issues requiring immediate Congressional attention, Members will be challenged to work through the partisan divide to tackle their “must-do” fall agenda.  While we can’t predict any outcomes, here’s the lay of the land for this Fall – and our Magic Eight Ball’s best guess of which issues will get the most attention and when.

Of immediate concern for Congress, the rising conflict with Syria will keep Congress’ attention for the rest of this week, possibly into the weekend, and probably still be driving debate in the House through next week as well.  Congressional attention has turned away from almost everything except Syria, leaving little time for discussion on other matters.  Once both chambers have voted on a Syria strategy one way or another, the House and Senate will likely turn their attention to their first impending deadline this fall:  FY2014 Appropriations.

Funding levels for the coming fiscal year must be set by September 30th, but since the chambers can’t agree on government spending for the full year ahead they are expected to pass a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR), keeping funding level probably until early December.  That said, while some legislators are advocating for a “clean” spending bill to minimize partisan debate, others are pushing to tie the CR to the debt ceiling to encourage a grand bargain (more below), and still others are angling to use the bill as a vehicle to defund the Affordable Care Act before the Health Insurance Exchanges open for enrollment on October 1st.  Congress will have to make a deal to avoid a government shutdown and the process and outcome of this fight will impact the next obstacle looming for the Fall, the Debt Ceiling.  *But an important note on the CR first: a short-term CR will likely lock in the sequester cuts from FY2013, which are already in effect but will not impose sequester cuts for 2014.  The CR and upcoming debt ceiling debate give Congress an opportunity to address the scheduled 2014 cuts – reducing, modifying, or maintaining them.

Once the CR is passed – probably right at the turn of the month – Congress will focus its attention on the debt ceiling, again, which must be raised by roughly mid-October.  We are likely to have a whole Halloween month full of eerily familiar rhetoric on the across-the-board sequester cuts, the nation’s borrowing limit, the risk and consequences of a government default, and the trade-offs between increased revenues versus cuts to entitlement spending, and whether the ACA should be defunded.

Discussions are beginning amongst leaders in Congress about to how to deal with the these complex funding and spending deadlines looming ahead and where the points of agreement might be, but the outlook is murky with so many issues swirling at once.  In addition, it should also be said that with these urgent issues requiring Congress’ full attention and compromise, comprehensive immigration reform may drop off the radar.  Stay tuned to the blog for updates on Congress’ crowded fall calendar and we’ll keep you current on whatever progress Congress is making that will impact you and your community health center.