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September Will Be a Very Busy Month for Congress

08/28/2017

September may be the busiest month of 2017 for Congress. There is a long list of must-pass legislation on the agenda, including the debt limit and appropriations for at least part of FY 2018, when Congress reconvenes on Tuesday, September 5. The calendar, however, isn't kind. There are only 12 legislative days scheduled in the House and 17 in the Senate.

Congress will have to reauthorize different agencies and programs -- including the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- before the end of the day on September 30. FreedomWorks is keeping an eye on these and other legislative initiatives. But make no mistake about it; September will be a make or break month for congressional Republicans.

Most of the attention in September will be on the issues listed below, in no particular order.

FY 2018 Budget Resolution: It's likely that the House Republican leaders will bring the FY 2018 budget, H.Con.Res. 71, to the floor during the first or second week of September. The House Budget Committee marked up the FY 2018 budget on July 19 on a party-line vote. H.Con.Res. 71 would supposedly bring the budget into balance in ten years and contains reconciliation instructions for fundamental tax reform. It also directs 11 committees to find $203 billion in mandatory spending savings.

While Republican moderates in the Tuesday Group are a concern, H.Con.Res. 71 should pass the House. What happens to the budget resolution in the Senate -- where Republicans have a slim "majority" -- is a big question. That said, even some of the Republican senators who were problems are ObamaCare repeal should be more amenable on fundamental tax reform.

The FY 2018 budget is a small step in the right direction, although much more needs to be done to address the long-term fiscal crisis that faces the country, as programs like Medicare and Social Security begin to consume more of the federal budget.

ObamaCare and Health Insurance Reform: The budget resolution under which Congress tried to "repeal and replace" ObamaCare expires on September 30. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) are working with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) on a proposal that would effectively block grant ObamaCare to the states. The approach is similar to the one Cassidy introduced in legislation earlier this year.

Under normal circumstances, such a bill would be slammed by most conservatives. But if this proposal were to, say, give states flexibility on Title I of the Affordable Care Act, the regulations that are driving up the cost of health insurance coverage, it may receive enough support to pass both chambers of Congress. Granted, there may be aspects of such a proposal that would still be tough for conservatives to support, let alone the fact that Republicans would have still failed to live up to more than seven years of promises to repeal ObamaCare.

Separately, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), chaired by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), has scheduled two hearings, one on September 6 with state health insurance commissioners and another on September 7 with governors, on health insurance market stabilization. "Market stabilization" is, of course, a euphemism for "bailouts for insurance companies."

Govs. John Kasich (R-Ohio) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), the latter of whom will testify before the Senate HELP Committee, have also reached some sort of an agreement on market stabilization. In other words, taxpayers should guard their wallets.

Debt Limit Increase: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said that the current "extraordinary measures" will be exhausted on September 29. Congress will try to increase the debt limit before then. What that looks like remains to be seen. If Republican leaders have a strategy on the debt limit, they're not sharing it publicly, and possibly not even privately with members.

A "clean" debt limit increase, which is what Secretary Mnuchin wants, is a non-starter for conservatives in the House and Senate. It's likely that House Republican leaders will try to attach the debt limit increase to a must-pass bill or structure it in some yet-to-be-seen deal to attract Democratic support and try to pass it at the last moment. Obviously, this is an unacceptable scenario.

In an internal memo, FreedomWorks offered four potential solutions -- including a spending cap or regulatory reform -- that could provide a path to increase the debt limit. That memo is available here. There are other ideas that could

Government Funding: The House has already passed one package of appropriations bills, or a “minibus,” the Make America Secure Appropriations Act, H.R. 3219. This bill included FY 2018 appropriations for the Department of Defense, the Legislative Branch, Homeland Security, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Energy and Water. Remaining appropriations bills are Agriculture; Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS); Financial Services; Interior and Environment; Labor, HHS, and Education; State and Foreign Operations; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD).

The Senate hasn’t yet considered the Make America Secure Appropriations Act. The House may consider the remaining appropriations bills in the form of another minibus when it returns. Recently, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) predicted that Congress will most likely pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded past September 30, the end of FY 2017.