Congress’s September To-Do List

With the fiscal year ending September 30, it is time for the Congress to get moving and complete its to-do list.

Here is Congress’s focus for the month of September

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, will occupy center stage this month as the House drafts legislation to fund the government past Sept. 30.

It’s his committee that writes the annual spending bills and his name that will appear on the measure as the chief sponsor.

Frelinghuysen, R-11th Dist., faces a tough fight for re-election, according to the Cook Political Report, a Washington-based publication that tracks congressional races. Two Democrats, Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor, and Passaic County Freeholder John Bartlett, have announced their candidacies.

Another government shutdown?

On the first of October government funding will end. This means that Congress must pass a spending bill by October 1 to keep the government open.

Instead of arguing, lawmakers could possibly pass a temporary spending bill to keep the government open for a few months in order to give time more time to settle their differences and fund federal operations for the rest of the fiscal year.

Other obstacles could arise as well; the refusal of the House Republican majority to pass a spending bill without killing the Affordable Care Act led to a 16-day shutdown in 2013.

The debt limit

Congress must vote by the end of the month to raise the federal debt limit, which is designed to let the government pay the bills it already has incurred. Without action, the federal government could default on its debts, leading to an economic downturn.

In recent years, conservative Republicans have threatened to oppose any increase in the debt limit without an agreement to cut future spending. Even the threat of a default caused Standard & Poor’s to lower the government’s credit rating in 2011.

Harvey aid

Trump has asked Congress to approve an initial payment of $7.9 billion to begin cleanup and repairs following Hurricane Harvey. The final price tag is likely to be much higher than that.

The question is whether those Republican lawmakers who opposed aid to New Jersey and New York after Hurricane Sandy will have a change of heart now that Texas is seeking federal funds.

The future of Obamacare

Trump and congressional Republican failed in their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with legislation that would leave more than 20 million additional Americans without health insurance.

They haven’t ruled trying again, but have only until the end of September to try to use a parliamentary maneuvers that pre-empts a Democratic filibuster and allows the Senate to act with just 51 votes.

Meanwhile, lawmakers of both parties are looking at ways to improve the ACA, such as allocating the payments to insurance companies that hold down out-of-pocket expenses for low-income policyholders. Trump has threatened to cut off the payments.

While the ACA will continue for now, the Children’s Health Insurance Program will expire at the end of the month unless Congress votes to renew it.

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