What's New in Washington (Apr)


Congress returned from its spring recess with a host of issues to address—trade, Trump administration nominations and opioid legislation sitting atop the priority list. Given the ongoing data scandal at Facebook, privacy issues are front and center for Congress, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg set to testify before committees in both chambers this week. Bipartisanship will be put to the test on these and other issues just weeks after congressional Republicans and Democrats joined together to pass legislation funding the government through the end of September.

On March 22, lawmakers approved a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package that will fund the federal government through the end of Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18), which ends on September 30. Fully, the omnibus appropriated $694 billion for defense programs, including Overseas Contingency Operations, and $591 billion for nondefense spending. Key programmatic funding increases included:

  • Infrastructure: $21 billion 
  • National Institutes of Health: $3 billion 
  • Opioids: $3.2 billion 
  • Border Security: $1.57 billion
  • Election Security: $1.57 billion
  • School Safety: $2.3 billion 

Beyond funding, the omnibus also contained several policy changes, including revisions to the 2017 tax reform law related to agriculture cooperatives, expansion of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and a pay increase for members of the Armed Forces.

Despite bipartisan efforts, disagreements over abortion provisions and other issues derailed an attempt to include provisions to stabilize the Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance markets by restoring funding for cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments and funding state reinsurance programs. Democrats failed to secure provisions enhancing federal gun laws, but the omnibus did include language lifting the prohibition on gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control as well as language from the Republican-backed Fix National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Act that closes loopholes in the federal background check system. A permanent fix to President Trump’s rescinding of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals was also not included.

Looking forward, the omnibus was likely one of the last major pieces of “must pass” legislation for the year, though there are some other “must pass” bills that will receive attention over the coming months, including FY 2019 appropriations, the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act and reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Though these and other measures, such as opioids abuse proposals, are top priorities for Congress, the remaining options for lawmakers to attach policy riders are limited. Moreover, as Election Day draws nearer, lawmakers will find it progressively more difficult to advance their priorities, as campaign politics begin to have an increasing effect on the substance and pace of legislating.

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