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Government Shutdown Averted, For Now…

Emily and Tiffany serve as NAPHSIS' government relations representatives in Washington, DC.

This week, Congress avoided a government shutdown that just last week seemed unavoidable. Late Wednesday afternoon, Congress passed a "clean" continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running through December 11 at essentially current funding levels. Whether or not lawmakers can avoid another shutdown come December 12 is much more uncertain now with evolving dynamics surrounding House leadership.

The window to pass a clean CR this time around was opened by Speaker John Boehner, who unexpectedly announced his resignation on Friday, September 25. His decision is assumed to have been motivated by a "motion to vacate the chair" filed by conservative members of the House who intended to use the measure to force the Speaker to include language to defund Planned Parenthood in a short-term CR. With Senate Democrats and President Obama strongly opposed to defunding the organization, such a CR was destined to fail, resulting in a government shutdown with no clear path on how to reopen the government. Speaker Boehner stepping down at the end of October cleared the path the clean, short-term CR since he didn't have to worry about accommodating conservatives' demands.

Boehner's resignation appears to have calmed his rivals for now. But their success in ousting the Speaker—a top priority for the group—will likely embolden their confidence and enhance their control over leadership just as we head into debates about the debt ceiling, raising the sequestered spending caps, and finalizing funding for the remainder of the fiscal year. Thus, a new Speaker (presumably the current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy) will be forced to choose between working with Democrats to clear the long fiscal to-do list, or avoiding these issues altogether to appease the conservative members of his party.

The latter would almost certainly lead to a government shutdown right before the holidays. Democrats demand that the two parties work together to the sequestered spending caps, that relief from the caps is equally split between defense and nondefense discretionary programs, and that a year-long continuing resolution at current levels be avoided since it would lock in sequestration's damaging cuts. Senate Democrats have blocked consideration of any bill that locks in sequestration and President Obama has backed them up with a veto threat for any bill that does, putting the majority and minority at odds that are irreconcilable without concessions from one or both parties.

Here are some things to watch for as we head into a busy budget season this fall:

  1. Planned Parenthood: House Republican Leadership is attempting to separate the Planned Parenthood defunding from the discretionary funding debate by moving the language into a separate bill that repeals portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which will certainly be vetoed by the President. If conservatives accept this as a genuine chance at their vote, they may back down on the issue later in the year…or they may not.

  2. Boehner and McConnell: After successfully passing a clean CR, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called for a two-year deal to raise sequestration caps and announced that he, Speaker Boehner, and President Obama would meet "soon" to negotiate a deal. If Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell were able to push through a deal before the Speaker's legislation at the end of the month could be the best chance at a deal to lift sequestration caps.

  3. Democrats' Stand: As we discussed above, Senate Democrats and the President have stuck together to block any legislation that locks in sequestration. They have also said they will not negotiate on the debt ceiling, which the U.S. Treasury said will be reached November 5. If they are able to stand strong against conservative forces, it may lead to a shutdown on December 12.

NAPHSIS has been and will continue to be an active member of the Coalition for Health Funding and NDD United, which are leading the fight to protect funding for public health funding including the National Center for Health Statistics, and all nondefense discretionary programs. We will continue to push for a budget deal that does not lock in damaging cuts to critical state public health functions and alert our members of threats to funding.

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