After a long election recess, Congress returns today—and Members have plenty of work to do in the lame duck session before the newly elected Congress takes over in January. The headline-making issues on the congressional agenda include Ebola and ISIS, but Congress’s response to these exceptional threats will likely be tied to its approach to a more basic task: keeping the federal government running.
Because Congress did not pass any FY 2015 appropriations bills before the recess, it approved a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government operating at FY 2014 funding levels when the new fiscal year began on October 1. But the CR expires on December 11, and Congress will have to enact a new funding measure before the deadline to avoid a government shutdown. Read more »
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) – who have been leading a new round of budget negotiations – have announced that they reached agreement on federal government spending levels for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2014 as well as FY 2015. Given Congress’s propensity toward last-minute bargains in recent years, you may be a bit surprised that the announcement from Sen. Murray and Rep. Ryan came a couple of days before their self-imposed deadline of December 13, and just over a month before current FY 2014 funding runs out on January 15. But there remains a lot more work to be done to ensure that we don’t face another government shutdown in January – and to make sure low-income women and their families are protected and unemployed workers aren’t left behind.
The budget savings in the bill total approximately $85 billion altogether, with about $22 billion to be used for deficit reduction in addition to the $62 to $63 billion intended to replace sequestration cuts. Major sources of the proposed savings include higher security fees for air travelers and cuts to pension benefits for military retirees and new federal government employees.
I believe that To Do lists are an art form. There’s nothing more beautiful than a list of things you need to get done with every single item crossed off of it. Crossing off an action item gives me such a sense of accomplishment that I usually put things I’ve already done on the list, just to cross them off.
In a major speech yesterday about economic mobility, President Obama shared one of his To Do lists with us. The items on this list are much more important than the ones on my usual lists. These items are the legislative and administrative priorities that will help fix the growing problem of income inequality in the United States.
Before sharing his “roadmap” with us, the President started with a reality check. He was blunt about the fact that our economy has become profoundly unequal and families have become more insecure. He drove home the point that we are living in a country that once promised success for those who worked hard, but is now faced with rapidly rising inequality and decreasing upward mobility in a way that “challenges the essence of who we are as a people.” Each fall NWLC analyzes the poverty data put out by the Census bureau, and those sobering statistics illustrate exactly what the President is talking about. I couldn’t agree more with the President when he said that these trends are bad for families, bad for the economy, bad for social cohesion, and bad for democracy. Read more »
The squeaky wheel gets oiled. Despite my parents’ insistence that patience (and appropriate volume) is a virtue, I learned early on that the person who pipes up and makes a scene gets an audience. Capitol Hill seems to have learned the same lesson.
During the ongoing budget debates, the voices we’ve heard are loud ones – powerful politicians, special interest groups, and newsmakers – who often get what they want when they want it. (You may remember that Congress speedily undid cuts to air traffic controllers when they were in a rush to fly home to their districts last spring.) The quieter voices – those with less influence and, too often, more on the line in this tough economy – have been drowned out. A new report from NDD United aims to change all that.
The group, a coalition of organizations including NWLC, is dedicated to ending sequestration and protecting nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs. These programs must be funded each year through the annual budget process. Discretionary programs are divided into two groups: defense and nondefense. NDD programs really are the “everything else” category of spending, and they critically affect Americans’ daily lives. NDD programs cover food safety, clean water, public transit, education, health, security… The list goes on and on. Read more »
Late Wednesday night, the House passed – and President Obama signed – a budget deal hammered out by the Senate to end the federal government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, narrowly avoiding the threat of default. (The Treasury Department estimated that the U.S. would come perilously close to running out of cash to pay its bills by Thursday.) Here’s what the bill does:
It suspends the debt ceiling through February 7, 2014. The Treasury Department can borrow additional funds through February 7 to ensure that the U.S. meets its obligations, and Treasury may employ “extraordinary measures” to pay the nation’s bills for a while after that date. But the debt ceiling will need to be raised or suspended again later in 2014.
It ends the shutdown and funds the federal government through January 15, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are now back on the job, museums and monuments have reopened, and federal programs are resuming normal operations. The bill provides back pay for furloughed workers and reimbursement for states that covered costs during the shutdown that are normally assumed by the federal government. But the 16-day shutdown needlessly cost billions of dollars, weakened the economy and the creditworthiness of the United States, and hurt low-income families who rely on government programs.
It leaves the health care law intact – but keeps the sequester, too. The bill does not contain any of the major concessions that House Republican leadership sought to delay or defund provisions of the health care law (“Obamacare”). But the Senate did agree to maintain FY 2013 spending levels through January 15, which means the sequester – which has cut billions of dollars from programs that women and their families depend on and undermined the economic recovery – will continue. Under the bill, government funding levels for the first few months of FY 2014 will be much closer to the House-passed budget plan than to the Senate’s own FY 2014 budget.
The Senate Subcommittee on Appropriations for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies just approved a funding plan for those agencies in Fiscal Year 2014. The full Committee will consider the bill tomorrow.
During the Subcommittee’s consideration of the bill, Senators voiced their appreciation of the bipartisan effort and conversations leading up to the bill. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chair of the Subcommittee, expressed her commitment to get the bill on the Senate floor saying “If we move this bill, America and the people who live in it will be in a better place.” Senator Mikulski explained that the appropriations bill laid the groundwork for expanding opportunity in America through empowering students, investing in education and getting people to work in the 21st century.
Early Childhood Education: A $1.43 billion increase for Head Start, including Early Head Start - Child Care Partnerships, plus a $171 million increase for existing Head Start and Early Head Start programs; a $176 million increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grants, including $110 million for new quality improvement grants and $66 million for child care assistance as well as $750 million for Preschool Development Grants.
Implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA): $5.2 billion to the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services to implement the Affordable Care Act, an increase from $3.9 billion in FY 2013. The ACA will help nearly 30 million Americans, including nearly 15 million women, to access high-quality, affordable health insurance.
Mental Health: $40 million for Project AWARE State grants, which will focus on making schools safer and connecting young people with mental health services, and $40 million in new funding to address shortages in the behavioral health workforce.
Here we go again. After a three month hiatus, the debt ceiling has gone back into effect and the federal government officially hit the limit last Sunday. This means the Treasury has begun its extraordinary measures to keep us from defaulting. These measures will extend the time until we would actually default until sometime after the summer — but the debt limit brinksmanship still has consequences. In fact, the Government Accountability Office estimates [PDF] last time we were in this situation "delays in raising the debt limit in 2011 led to an increase in Treasury's borrowing costs of about $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2011."
But what does $1.3 billion really mean? How about this: $1.3 billion is the annual base budget for the Department of Defense's Child Care and Youth Programs. This money goes to child care providers, as well as child and youth development programs. Next year it is estimated to serve more than 200,000 children of military families.
This comes on the heels of another egregious money waster — the 37th vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. "Obamacare") which passed the House last week. Read more »
As expected, President Obama’s FY 14 budget includes a proposal to use the “chained Consumer Price Index” – a slower-growing measure of inflation that would cut Social Security benefits by reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments. This is not just a technical change – but a benefit cut that would cause real hardship to the elderly and the poor. The President’s budget recognizes this threat and proposes some protections for vulnerable beneficiaries from the chained CPI – but NWLC analysis shows that this strategy is not adequate.
The budget proposes a bump-up in benefits for long-term beneficiaries, who would experience the worst cuts because the cuts grow deeper every year. In addition, the budget would not apply the chained CPI to needs-based benefit programs, such as Supplemental Security Income, or use it to determine eligibility for programs like SNAP (Food Stamps).
NWLC’s analysis finds that the small and gradual benefit increases from the bump-ups wouldn’t restore the monthly benefit of the typical single elderly woman to current-law levels—unless she lives to 104. Read more »
Did you see the first video from NWLC and the National Priorities Project explaining why budget and tax issues are women’s issues? No? Then stop what you’re doing and watch it here.
Now that you’ve seen it, you’re eager for more, right? Well, my friend, you’re in luck. In Part 2, you’ll learn how Congress can protect programs that serve women and families by requiring the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. Watch the second video now:
After a couple of weeks of intense debate over budget plans proposed in the House and Senate, you may feel that this week’s Congressional recess is a welcome break from talk of taxes and spending, deficits and debt. But Congress is back in session April 8 – and the budget battles will return, too.