Members of Congress found their first day back from the holiday recess delayed this week as a rare winter cyclone swept the east coast from Boston to Florida, cancelling flights and making travel difficult. But once they return, lawmakers will have to address a number of pressing issues.
First on the list is appropriations. The most recent continuing resolution (CR) passed late last month only extended federal funding for the current fiscal year – including funding provided by the Department of Education (ED) to States on July 1 – until January 19. Negotiations have been complicated by a number of factors – most fundamentally, a disagreement over whether to raise Congressionally-determined spending caps, but also questions over whether to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and how to handle the Trump Administration’s cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program. Some lawmakers have predicted that yet another temporary budget measure will be needed to give Congress an opportunity to address these issues, though White House officials and President Trump have met with Congressional leaders this week in an attempt to resolve some of the conflicts. There will be an additional meeting this weekend at Camp David to discuss appropriations.
Congress may also have some work to do on healthcare. Despite the passage of a tax bill last month that would eliminate the individual mandate to purchase healthcare – part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – Congressional leaders have said there is still more to do. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) say they are working on bipartisan legislation to address some of the cost and operations issues with the ACA, while Republican leadership has indicated they want to work on legislation that would modify entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid – including school-based Medicaid services.
And if Congress can get all that done, they may turn to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Legislation to modify many parts of the HEA and its accompanying regulations passed the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in December, but has not yet been taken up by the full House. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is also reportedly drafting HEA legislation and members have said they want to continue work on Perkins reauthorization, but the Committee may be preoccupied with healthcare for the time being.