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.
So what will Congress do? Some Republican Members are seeking another short-term CR, a move that would mean continued uncertainty for agencies (and a likely push for program cuts in the new Congress, given the draconian proposals approved by the majority in the House-passed FY 2015 budget). However, more Members reportedly favor a longer-term measure—which could be a full-year CR that extends FY 2014 funding levels through the rest of FY 2015, or an omnibus appropriations bill that can establish new program funding levels for the remainder of the fiscal year.
And what does this mean for women and families? While a long-term CR would be preferable to the short-term approach, it would lock in low current funding levels without accounting for new needs, such as the pending reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) [PDF] —a measure that will require additional resources to effectively improve the quality of child care while expanding access for families. Under an omnibus bill, Congress can adjust the amounts allocated to specific programs to better meet the demands of the CCDBG reauthorization and other pressing needs (though it will remain constrained by the overall FY 2015 funding levels agreed to in the budget deal approved last December). Today, poverty remains at historically high levels, especially among women and children, yet sequestration cuts and other austere budget policies in recent years have decreased funding for more than 100 programs [PDF] that serve low-income and vulnerable people—so it is critical for Congress to ensure in an omnibus that programs women and their families depend on are protected and strengthened, not cut further.
In addition, Congress should ensure that any additional funding to combat Ebola and ISIS is appropriately recognized as emergency spending, which does not require offsetting reductions in other programs. And it should reject renewal of the costly corporate tax breaks known as “tax extenders”—or pay for them by closing other corporate loopholes so that corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
The new Congress will have much more to do to make the federal budget work for women and families—like permanently eliminating the sequestration cuts that have cost jobs and services [PDF], bolstering programs that lift millions of women and children out of poverty, and advancing tax policies that require corporations and the very wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes. But the lame duck session presents the outgoing Congress with the opportunity to take important steps in the right direction.