The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
The Senate’s rejection of the proposal to repeal major portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will substantially alter the future of the Congressional agenda. Much remains uncertain, but Congress has already started discussions around the fiscal year 2018 budget and appropriations processes.
Last May, Congress passed a continuing resolution, a stopgap funding measure, that funds the government through the end of September. This gives Congress two months to decide on spending levels for fiscal year 2018, which begins October 1, 2017. Congress can either pass twelve bills written by the various House and Senate appropriations subcommittees (such as the Defense or the Energy and Water Development Subcommittees), agree to another continuing resolution, or some combination of the two. Last month, the House has passed a package of four of these appropriations bills, including allocating $1.6 billion for a wall along the United States’ southern border.
As the Appropriations Subcommittees are working on proposals for funding in their respective areas, the Trump Administration and House Budget Committee have each offered their own plans. The Senate Budget Committee will follow. The President’s budget request provides the Administration’s suggestions to Congress for annual spending, but is nonbinding. The House and Senate budget resolutions outline each chamber’s broad blueprints for spending and taxes for the following fiscal year. While they are also nonbinding and are unlikely to be implemented in full, they do provide overall spending amounts to the Appropriations Subcommittees. The Congressional budget resolutions also carry added significance: they can be utilized as a vehicle for the “budget reconciliation” process.
Reconciliation allows Congress to approve budget-related legislation with only a bare majority of Senators. This was the same process that was used for the multiple attempts to repeal the ACA throughout the year. The FY 2017 budget was used as vehicle for health care reform attempts, while House and Senate leadership intend to use the FY 2018 budget as a vehicle for tax reform. However, if the House and Senate fail to pass a budget resolution, Congress would be unable to use budget reconciliation. Major disagreements remain over the content of the proposal.
The House Budget Committee’s resolution contains many concerning funding recommendations. It threatens to slash 4.4 trillion dollars for entitlement programs over the next ten years, including enormous cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. The resolution would also allow Congress to utilize reconciliation to enact even deeper cuts to programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and others. These represent direct threats to the country’s most vulnerable populations.
Additionally, the resolution proposes dangerous threats to the environment. It leaves the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of our nation’s last true wilderness areas, vulnerable to oil and gas drilling. The Environmental Protection Agency also faces substantial cuts to important regulatory, research, and climate change programs. The budget also proposes eliminating funding for important research in the Department of Energy.
The budget proposal is not just a reconciling of revenue and spending, but is a moral document that represents a vision for how the federal government should operate. Jewish tradition compels us to speak up for vulnerable populations, for the environment, and for the programs and policies that directly impact the lives of millions. As the budget process continues, we will be guided by our centuries-old values, like those proclaimed by Isaiah, to demand leaders who are “devoted to justice and zealous for equity” (16:5).