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Washington Update: What Has Happened and What to Expect
This has been a difficult update to write because of how quickly things happen in Washington. Congress has only a few months before the end of this session to address several critical issues, and no one knows to expect on any given day from the president.
I am trying to be as up-to-date as possible, given the decisions made prior to September 30 (end of the fiscal year), and those made in the first few weeks on the new fiscal year beginning October 1.
What Did Not Get Done at the End of FY 2017
The president and Congressional leaders worked out an agreement for a four-month budget-continuing resolution that ends on December 8, keeping the government funded until then. Congress must finalize the FY 2018 budget by then or pass another continuing resolution. If it doesn’t, the government will shut down until Congress can agree on a budget. Without a final decision on the 2018 budget, Congress cannot move forward on tax reform, a key piece of the president’s and GOP’s legislative agenda.
Included in the agreement were extending the debt ceiling (which will be addressed again in Spring 2018), some funding for Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief and FEMA and an extension of the FAA. Some members of Congress, especially Republicans, wanted a longer time-frame before addressing the debt ceiling.
Most visible was the defeat of efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). A new bipartisan effort is underway led by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray to fix the flaws in the current law.
The Federal Perkins Loan Program, which provides small loans for roughly 500,000 low-income students, expired on September 30. Legislation proposed to extend it failed. In the past, members have found a way to reinstitute the program in the first few months of the next fiscal year. However, Senator Alexander believes the program needs to be improved and streamlined before it is renewed.
Congress missed the deadline to extend CHIP, the federal program to provide health insurance to low-income children. Nine million children are affected by its inaction. Several states are scrambling to preserve funding for the program until Congress takes action. Two House committees and one Senate committee have marked up legislation to reauthorize CHIP. Its reauthorization and funding is proposed to be extended for two years, and has been added to an aid package bill for Puerto Rico and U.S. cities adversely affected by the recent hurricanes.
Nothing was resolved about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act. Therefore, these individuals are in limbo as to what the policy and practice will be. A decision needs to be made by March 5. There is an effort to change DACA from an executive order to a statute. GOP lawmakers say Trump wants tough measures to be instituted for the “Dreamers” that will include a rigid set of criteria in a drafted bill. Congress needs to pass a bill that solely addresses those currently covered by DACA, rather than a broader circle of young undocumented immigrants. It is not clear when Congress will act and how tough it will be. Immigration policy and funding for the wall is a different set of issues.
What to Expect
Work has begun to finalize a budget by December 8. A budget resolution passed the House, mainly along party lines (12 Republicans voted against it) on October 5. The Senate passed its budget resolution out of committee on the same day, and expects to take it up on the floor within two weeks of October 5. Neither of these blueprints reflects the cuts proposed by President Trump. The House has deeper cuts in social programs than the Senate.
Look for an ongoing discussion and analysis of the implementation of the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA). There will be scrutiny of the implementation of each state’s plan to ensure they follow the law. The U.S. Department of Education will also be monitoring how well state plans meet their requirements, the approval review process and agency oversight of implementation. All states have submitted plans before the deadline except for the few states given an extension due to the hurricanes.
Watch for a battle over what is included in tax reform; who receives tax relief and how much relief. This will not be an easy nor short process. There are divisions within party ranks and across the aisle. Three of the bones of contention are the proposed elimination of the State and Local Tax deduction (SALT), medical deductions and charitable donations.
Trump administration officials are mulling an executive order that would instruct federal agencies to review low-income assistance programs as part of an effort to make sweeping changes to the nation’s welfare system.
There are likely to be additional appropriations for hurricane relief, as well as additional funding for Medicaid for the affected areas. But expect discussion on the consequent impact on the budget deficit.
The FAA may have been included in the Continuing Resolution, but it still needs to be reauthorized no later than December 8.
CHIP will be extended as part of other appropriations for hurricane relief, unless there is a major snafu.
The president has sent up to the Hill a request for $29 billion in disaster aid that includes money for hurricane victims, and billions more to shore up the federal flood insurance program.
There still will be a debate over National Flood Insurance, which has expired, and how much FEMA is to be funded given the numerous disasters over the past year. The president’s budget proposal cuts FEMA significantly and eliminated the flood insurance.
The House passed a bill that prevents abortions after 20 weeks; now a similar bill has been introduced in the Senate. Expect a fierce debate over the legislation in the Senate.
The ongoing battle over nominations and confirmations of ambassadors, judges and agency officials that required Senate confirmation continues. As does the need for staffing in most agencies not requiring Senate confirmation.
Snapshot of the Education Budget for 2018
Appropriations and Budget Committees have ignored the proposed elimination of funding for after school programs, and instead kept it level-funded. Both committees have added $100 to each Pell Grant, but cut the full appropriation for the grants.
A significant cut has been made to Title II programs for professional development of teachers and school staff. This will have an impact on local school districts. However, a final FY18 budget may change this decision.
The total Education Budget will be cut by over $2 billion.
School choice has been ignored in the current funding discussions. There is an increase in funding for charter schools.
On the Radar
Probably not in this calendar year, but during the second session of the 115th Congress (2018), the following education reauthorizations maybe addressed:
- Higher Education Act
- Career and Technical Education Act
- Fight over the final FY 2018 budget — what programs are cut, level-funded and increased in education, training and health services
- Additional efforts to eliminate education policies and practices instituted during the Obama administration, especially in the areas of civil rights and higher education, including student loans and default rates. Also, watch for efforts by Secretary DeVos to find ways to implement vouchers or choice scholarships.
- A Supreme Court decision affecting unions and dues, especially the AFT and NEA.
- Battle over tax reform — what can be deducted; what are the rates; amount of individual deductions; and who wins and who loses.
I have tried to cover a great deal of ground. Keep your eyes and ears open.
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Fritz Edelstein is a principal in Public Private Action. His work focuses on strategic government and constituent relations, business development strategy, advocacy research and policy analysis, strategic planning and resource development, and advocacy, outreach and public engagement. This work includes producing Fritzwire, the education Internet newsletter providing timely information on education and related issues. To subscribe, write firstname.lastname@example.org.