Lawmakers Dec. 21 cleared a third stopgap (H.R. 1370) for the president, ensuring federal operations will continue at least through Jan. 19.
The continuing resolution (CR) effectively extends the previous CR (P.L. 115-90) while lawmakers continue to negotiate a budget deal to provide relief from sequestration. None of the 12 annual spending bills have been enacted yet for fiscal year (FY) 2018, while appropriators await the outcome of ongoing bipartisan negotiations to increase the discretionary spending caps.
Initially, House leaders had planned to move forward with a different package (H.J.Res. 124) that would have extended funding through Jan. 19 for all agencies except the Department of Defense, which would have been funded through the end of FY 2018 [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 15]. That bill would have exempted the Pentagon from sequestration, leaving advocates concerned that caps on non-defense discretionary spending would remain unchanged and would force flat or reduced final FY 2018 funding levels for the National Institutes of Health and other programs.
Leaders abandoned that plan, however, when passage appeared unlikely with only days left before the previous CR expired just before the holidays. Instead, Republican leadership Dec. 21 introduced a stripped down version of the CR in the form of H.R. 1370, including only a few defense anomalies, rather than the full year spending bill. The House approved the package, 231-188, followed soon after by Senate passage, 66-32.
In addition to serving as a stopgap for programs subject to the annual appropriations process, the CR also included a patch through March 31 for a set of health care programs whose funding expired Sept. 30. In addition to temporary funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the bill also provides a short-term extension for the National Health Service Corps and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education programs (see related story).
The CR also provides $2.1 billion for the Veterans Choice Program that allows veterans to access private health care providers at non-VA facilities. The stopgap funding will allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to operate the program through the spring while the House and Senate negotiate reform legislation (see related story ).
Aside from the funding patches, the bill also includes language waiving automatic mandatory spending cuts that would be triggered under statutory PAYGO once the recently approved tax bill is signed into law (see related story).