NAICU Washington Update

Congressional Outlook for the Remainder of the Year

November 12, 2017

With Congress scheduled to be in session only 19 days between November 13 and December 15, there is increased pressure to get a lot done in a short amount of time. Each big agenda item has scheduling and political hurdles to address, none of which are easy to overcome. 
With the focus on a major tax reform proposal underway, there is no question this will be the main focus of Congressional Leadership.  Because Congress approved the fast-track reconciliation instruction for tax legislation, the Senate can pass its bill with only 51 votes, meaning that if the Republicans can hold together, Democratic support will not be needed for passage. While House majority rules allow for passage without Democratic votes, Republican intra-party squabbles – particularly over increasing the deficit and the future of the state and local tax deduction – will impact the outcome of the final legislation.   
Budget Deal

A bipartisan, bicameral two-year budget deal was expected to pass both chambers prior to Thanksgiving, but has been bumped by the focus on tax reform.  In this case, a “budget deal” is not the same as final appropriations spending on government programs.  The budget bill, which is already in the works, would increase the statutory spending caps for two years, and provide relief from sequester cuts.
Unlike the 2013 and 2015 budget deals, ensuring a balanced budget by providing substantial offsets for raising the spending caps is not high on the priority list.  Both Republican and Democratic appropriators have stated they cannot finalize the defense or nondefense spending bills without increases in statutory spending limits. The leadership goal is to try and enact new spending caps without getting involved in partisan policy issues. The President must sign this deal. Once they get over this hurdle, appropriators can finalize FY 2018 spending bills. 
FY 2018 Appropriations

Immediately after Thanksgiving, Congress will have to address the fact that the government is currently running on a continuing resolution (CR) that expires December 8.  With new allocations based on the expected budget deal, appropriators will have two weeks after Thanksgiving to finalize FY 2018 spending.  It is possible Congress may pass another CR until December 22 to allow time for completing a year-end package that is expected to carry many other riders.  
Also in the queue, both chambers plan on passing another emergency supplemental funding bill targeted at hurricane disaster relief for Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands, and wildfire disaster relief for California. At this point in the calendar, this legislation would need to be attached to the FY 2018 spending bill.
Democratic votes are necessary for passage of the funding bill in the Senate.  Knowing that, Democrats are already advocating for the inclusion of at least the extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, DREAM Act provisions, and a resolution for DACA students in the final bill.  Also, President Trump wants funding for border wall construction, and has promised funds to address the opioid crisis. If there are no deals with Democrats on non-appropriations items, the GOP leadership may now pass a CR until February, to avoid a government shutdown. This timing would also coincide with the government reaching the debt ceiling limit, which will have to be addressed.
Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

It is expected that House Republicans will take the lead in drafting a comprehensive bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act since no Democratic votes would be needed to bring it through the chamber.  The bill is expected to be unveiled soon, most likely right after Thanksgiving, with a markup likely before the Christmas break.  With public sentiment growing against traditional colleges, such a reauthorization is unlikely to be an improvement over current law, and could become a major concern for the higher education community at the same time efforts are focused on maintaining student aid funding and protecting provisions in the tax code important to the non-profit sector.
President Trump has been outspoken on most of the issues before Congress, and could cut deals outside the congressional leadership, as he did earlier this year.  

MORE News from NAICU