Federal Government Reopens After Congress Passes Another FY18 Continuing Resolution

The federal government shutdown lasted three full days ending on Monday when the President signed another continuing resolution (CR) funding the government through February 8. The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 81-18 (two Republicans and 16 Democrats voted against the measure). The House followed and approved the measure by a vote of 266-150 (six Republicans voted against the bill, while 45 Democrats voted for passage). The President then signed the bill later that evening.

Senate Democrats agreed to vote for the measure after getting a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for floor time for an immigration debate. McConnell said that turning to immigration legislation was contingent on the passage of a CR to keep the government open. McConnell said his intention is to take up legislation that would address DACA, border security, and related issues, as well as disaster relief, defense funding, and healthcare and to have an amendment process that is “fair to all sides.” The debate over legislation that would protect the nearly 700,000 “Dreamers” would occur if there is no bipartisan deal before this new CR expires on February 8. There is no assurance, though, that the House will take up an immigration package. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) has said he will only take up legislation if it has support from a majority of his Republican conference.

The CR included a six-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program as well as delays for three taxes that were set to take effect under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The CR also provided retroactive pay for federal employees who either worked or were furloughed during the shutdown and will cover periods for any future funding lapses during FY18. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that this CR will add $31.25B to annual deficits over the next decade.

After the CR was passed, Senate Intelligence Committee leaders on both sides expressed concern over a provision that was included in the stopgap measure. The language could allow the White House to exert greater control over the intelligence community’s funding by permitting the transfer and spending of intelligence funds without congressional authorization or approval. Effectively, the intelligence community could expend funds as it sees fit without an authorization bill in place. Before final passage of the bill, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) sought unanimous consent to change the language of the intelligence provision, but Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) objected saying the language was requested by the administration and used in previous CRs.

The risk of another shutdown persists as this CR only funds the federal government through February 8. Congress has just two weeks (9 legislative days in the Senate, 6 legislative days in the House) to agree on new defense and non-defense spending limits for an FY18 omnibus appropriations bill as well as come to terms on an immigration deal. However, Senate Democrats may now be considering decoupling the spending caps deal from the immigration deal. Other issues that could be on the negotiating table include: measures to continue cost-sharing payments to insurers to reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income Americans, long-term funding for community health centers, funding to address the opioid epidemic, propping up underfunded private pension plans, and emergency funding for victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires. Absent an agreement, Congress will have to pass another CR. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said this week that Congress likely would have to pass at least two more CRs.