National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors

Congress Scrambling to Fund the Government amidst Impeachment Stress

Congress is finding it difficult to find the compromises that will allow for a government funding bill that can also change policy. To date, none of the 12 required appropriations bills have passed. And Congress has all but thrown in the towel on the effort to do a funding bill prior to the November 21 deadline. So, it appears that another continuing resolution (CR)—with no policy changes—will be needed, or the government will shut down.
 
The House has passed 10 of the 12 regular-order appropriations bills, some multiple times in different package combinations. But those House-passed bills do not reflect the budget agreement reached by Congressional leaders and the President this past September. So, they must change during negotiations with the Senate, which has so far passed only one appropriations bill.
 
Currently, the Senate is grappling with a controversial spending package that would combine funding for the Departments of Defense, Labor (DOL), and Health and Human Services (HHS). This package could (although it currently appears unlikely that it would) provide a “legislative home” for the pending retirement savings bill, the SECURE Act (H.R.1994).
 
Failure to craft and pass government spending legislation means Congress must enact temporary funding authority by way of another continuing resolution (CR) in order to avoid a government shut-down. The deadline for that is November 21, the date that current CR temporary funding authority expires.
 
Currently, lawmakers are contemplating a CR to last until December 20. The President has said he’d be open to such a short-term CR. There is no one on Capitol Hill who believes it would be possible to add SECURE—or any other policy change—to a CR. However, extension of funding and authority for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is likely to be included in this next CR.
 
Complicating the spending negotiations is the impeachment inquiry currently underway in the House of Representatives. There are, of course, policy (and funding) issues still in dispute—particularly involving funding for the wall on the U.S. southern border. That is something President Trump badly wants, and Democrats are adamantly opposed to providing. But on top of that is a new sense that a government shut-down—or threat of one—could take some of the heat off the President relative to the House impeachment inquiry.
 
Perhaps of most immediate import with this issue is that Congress has not yet enacted legislation to fund itself—the Legislative Branch appropriations bill, or a CR that includes funding for the legislative branch. If it doesn’t, that will not stop the impeachment inquiry. Constitutionally-authorized government activity (and impeachment is such an activity) is exempt from shut-down requirements, although those working on such issues would not be paid. But it would virtually certainly impact the scope and timing of the impeachment inquiry process.
 
So, there are some in Washington who are speculating that President Trump and/or his Congressional supporters will, as a matter of impeachment strategy, try to derail funding for the legislative branch—or for the entire government. That may be behind the rather sudden shift in thinking on the next CR—setting it up to expire in December rather than in February or March, as had been the thinking as little as two weeks ago.
 
One more complicating factor is the timing of the impeachment inquiry. No date has been set by House leadership for a vote on articles of impeachment. Indeed, while it appears inevitable that there will be such a vote, it is not, in fact, a certainty at this point. It is possible, albeit unlikely that the House will decide against bringing articles of impeachment. But if they do, insiders are now predicting that it will happen before Christmas. That would set up a Senate trial in January and would probably ensure that the government will limp along with CR funding, rather than a policy-changing appropriations bill. That would spell more trouble for enactment of the SECURE Act.
 
Prospects: No one is ruling out a pre-holiday government shut down, especially with the Administration and its supporters looking hard for a way to stave off first House and then-Senate action on impeachment. Equally, no one is optimistic about prospects for government funding legislation (other than a CR) that could carry the SECURE Act (or other priority policy issues). At the moment, the outcome is entirely unclear, but there will be at least an interim answer by November 21, the date that current government funding authority runs out. We will, of course, keep you posted.
 
NAIFA Staff Contacts: Diane Boyle, Senior Vice President – Government Relations at DBoyle@naifa.org; Judi Carsrud, Assistant Vice President – Government Relations at jcarsrud@naifa.org; or Michael Hedge, Director – Government Relations at mhedge@naifa.org
 
  • Posted November 15, 2019 IN