What did Congress Just Do?

By No Labels
February 9, 2018 | Blog

As most Americans slept early Friday morning, the government shut down. Then, just hours before sunrise, Congress passed a budget bill that reopened the agencies and charted a new course for federal spending over the next two years.

The bill contained an agreement to raise limits on defense and discretionary domestic spending, breaking an impasse between Republicans and Democrats that has lasted for months. The government will continue spending at current levels until March 23, when Congress is expected to pass appropriations bills that put the new, higher spending limits into effect.

If this all sounds confusing, that’s because it is. The bill ran to 600 pages and it addressed many—though not all—of the tough issues facing Congress this year. Here’s what you need to know.

Higher spending limits were approved

Republicans and Democrats finally reached an accord on budget numbers. Lawmakers increased budget limits for defense and domestic programs by about 10 percent each over the previous fiscal year. Overall, spending will increase by about $300 billion over two years. These top-line numbers will be used by the appropriations committees to parse out federal funding to agencies and departments, either one bill at a time (there are traditionally 12 appropriations bills) or as a single, large package. Either way, it must be done by March 23. If lawmakers are successful, it should eliminate the stopgap funding measures that have plagued the process since October, causing showdowns and shutdowns. Congress will have a spending plan through 2019.

Disaster relief and the debt ceiling were addressed

The bill addressed many issues. It suspended the debt ceiling until March of 2019, allowing the government to borrow what it needs to keep running. It also allocated roughly $90 billion in disaster relief for Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida and California. Money was also included to fund federal health programs, help fight the opioid epidemic and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Roughly $20 billion was tabbed for infrastructure improvements.

‘Dreamers’ and border security were left out

One major item not addressed in the bill was immigration policy, which means the future is uncertain for roughly 800,000 “Dreamers” who were brought to the United States as children and could face deportation come March. Lawmakers in both parties, as well as President Trump, have expressed a desire to protect Dreamers, and the Problem Solvers Caucus recently made a proposal that would have paired a long-term solution for the Dreamers with investments in border security. There are several bipartisan plans on the table that would grant them a path to citizenship and enhance border security. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have even promised a debate on immigration in each chamber. But there’s no guarantee lawmakers in both parties can reach an agreement, especially in an election year when immigration will likely factor heavily in many campaigns.

Increased spending angered some

Though the budget bill broke a months-long deadlock, many lawmakers took issue with what they consider Washington’s continued excessive spending. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, held up the spending bill in the Senate and forced the brief government shutdown to protest the growing federal budget deficit, which is expected to exceed $1 trillion. Many Republicans in the House voted against the bill for the very same reason. “Somebody’s got to stand up and fight,” Paul told Politico, adding that, “The hypocrisy is astounding. Every one of these Republicans complained about President Obama’s deficits.”

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