I’m not sure whether it counts as good news to report that Congress carried out one of its most basic responsibilities today by ensuring that the government will continue to function for the rest of FY 2013 — but it’s certainly better than reporting a government shutdown beginning next week.
Today, the House of Representatives approved the continuing resolution (CR) passed yesterday by the Senate, averting a potential shutdown by funding government operations through the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2013). (The CR passed last September will expire on March 27.) The bill largely maintains current funding levels, further reduced by the full $85 billion in cuts from the “sequester,” which means many programs and services that women and their families depend on remain subject to cuts — and hundreds of thousands of jobs are still likely to be lost, slowing our economic recovery.
The CR that passed today does include small funding boosts for some critical programs for low-income women and their families, including child care and Head Start, though not enough to make up for the sequester cuts. The bill is an improvement over the CR originally passed by the House, which increased defense funding and allowed some flexibility for agencies to minimize the impact of the sequester on defense programs, but did nothing to shield domestic programs from cuts.
The sequester is scheduled to be in effect through FY 2021, and the budget battles are far from over. Just today, the House passed the FY 2014 budget resolution introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), which cuts funding for programs women and families depend on far below sequestration levels, while giving huge new tax cuts to the richest Americans and corporations. Yesterday, the Senate began debate on the FY 2014 budget proposal introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), which — in stark contrast to the Ryan budget — proposes new investments in early childhood programs, replaces the sequester (including for this fiscal year), largely protects core safety net programs, preserves the Affordable Care Act, and advances tax fairness. And President Obama will release his own FY 2014 budget plan in early April.
Negotiations around the FY 2014 budget present an opportunity for Congress to change course by raising revenue from corporations and the wealthiest among us, ending the sequester, and making investments to support women, families and the economy — or to do just the opposite (Exhibit A: the Ryan budget). I hope Congress chooses the better path forward.