Lame-Duck Session Gets Underway
Although leadership elections were the primary focus on Capitol Hill this week, several major legislative items are unsettled and will need to be dealt with in the limited time remaining in the 115th Congress. Job one for lawmakers is tackling the unfinished portion of the fiscal year 2019 budget. While 5 of the 12 annual appropriations measures have been finalized, the remaining seven bills – which cover dozens of federal agencies – are operating under a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that expires on December 7.
One issue that could lead to a budget stalemate is disagreement over funding for President Trump’s border wall. For their part, House Republicans have acquiesced to the administration’s demand for $5 billion in wall funding as part of the chamber’s Homeland Security spending legislation. The Senate’s version of the bill, however, includes just $1.6 billion. Incidentally, the president’s funding request is a nonstarter for Democrats, particularly in the absence of a permanent legislative solution to the expired Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
In addition to the fiscal year 2019 budget, finalizing a new Farm Bill is a top priority for congressional leaders. Although the current Farm Bill authorization lapsed on September 30, USDA has signaled that the legislation’s expiration will not directly impact farmers and ranchers in the short term. Despite USDA’s assurances, many agricultural interests have expressed concern that an extended delay in programmatic authority could negatively impact a variety of conservation and agriculture programs.
While there are several major sticking points to completing a new Farm Bill, disagreements over the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/CalFRESH) have bogged down the negotiations. It should be noted that SNAP is an “appropriated entitlement,” meaning it does not rely on the Farm Bill for continuing programmatic authority. Therefore, SNAP benefits will not been impacted by the lapse in authorization.
Finally, and in addition to the fiscal year 2019 budget and the Farm Bill, lawmakers will need to decide how to handle lapsing programmatic authority for the National Flood Insurance Program, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and the Violence Against Women Act.