A mid-term election year can be a difficult one for Congress to accomplish a lot, however the GOP leadership of the 115th Congress and the Trump Administration have an ambitious to-do list for the year ahead. Budget issues and talk of a potential government shutdown are taking center stage this week as the government is funded only through January 19th. Congressional leaders from both parties and White House officials are holding a number of key strategy meetings to try and reach an agreement. The Republicans are pushing for a two year budget deal, while the Democrats would like to include an agreement on immigration – specifically pertaining to a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Congress has until March 18th to reach an agreement on the status and rights of Dreamers. Democrats would also like a deal to encompass additional spending on veterans programs, disaster relief, the National Institutes of Health, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, community health centers, combating the opioid epidemic and faltering pension plans.
If spending caps are raised, sequestration (or automatic cuts to some government programs) will go into effect. In addition, the recently passed tax bill could trigger $136 billion in cuts, including $25 billion to Medicare, under statutory Pay-As-You-Go requirements also known as Paygo. Congress is hoping to pass a Paygo waiver to protect these programs in exchange for votes on the tax bill and spending.
President Trump is also meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to plan for the joint retreat of the House and Senate Republicans to be held at the end of January. They plan to map out the GOP agenda including whether and how to tackle changes to safety-net programs upon which many families rely – including welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid; health care, and infrastructure. The administration’s infrastructure plan is expected to roll out this month with a proposal of the federal government providing at least $200 billion and local governments and private investors supplying the rest. The President may touch on these areas during the State of the Union scheduled for January 30th. In February, the House Democrats have a planned retread to review their agenda and strategy for the year and we may also see the President’s FY19 budget proposal.
Net Neutrality has been in the news of late, with the FCC ruling to repeal regulations pertaining to the internet (spurring questions about potential impact, how much should the internet be regulated, is it a utility, will internet providers charge more for customers to access content at a high speed). The courts will litigate the issues and in the meantime, the legislative branch can consider Congressional action. How consumers may be impacted is important for Goodwill® program participants who access online programming and other virtual services.
In the new year, we can anticipate hearing more about the 2020 Census, particularly as it relates to the funding needed for the Census and the concern that many people (especially those who are undocumented) may be afraid to respond. Census data is important for a number of reasons. It affects the numbers of seats your state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives. Advocates, researchers and employers use the data for different causes, including looking at skilled workers. And, it determines how much federal funding is spent in certain areas on services including job training centers run by local Goodwill organizations.
Finally, education may be a hot topic as the Higher Education Act (HEA) and the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act are both due for reauthorization. The HEA is said to be the priority and there is debate over issues pertaining to student loan forgiveness, while the CTE could allow for more opportunities to expand adult high schools like the Goodwill Excel Center.
As a Goodwill advocate, your voice will be important as all of these issues are debated. Be sure to register for the Legislative Action Center and follow us on Twitter @GoodwillCapHill to be informed of the latest information.