August 2, 2013
The August Congressional recess begins today with the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 appropriations process virtually at a standstill. As the recess begins, it seems all but certain that Congress will need to enact a short-term spending measure, known as a Continuing Resolution (CR), if a federal government shutdown is to be avoided on Oct. 1, which is the start of the new fiscal year. The stalled appropriation process was made clear with inaction in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate this week.
House Republicans seem to be unable to pass appropriation bills that match the spending levels of the House passed budget for FY '14, particularly with its deep cuts in non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending. Evidence of this was seen on Wednesday when the House Republican leadership withdrew the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) FY '14 spending bill, H.R. 2610, from consideration on the House floor. The key factors were opposition by moderate House Republicans and nearly all House Democrats who think the NDD spending cuts are too deep and conservative House Republicans who think the cuts are not deep enough. Funding for domestic and global federal HIV/AIDS programs is included in NDD spending. The THUD bill includes funding for the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) Program. Last week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies cancelled a markup on the Labor/HHS spending bill and was unable to move the bill forward this week either. This bill includes funding for most domestic HIV/AIDS programs, such as the Ryan White Program and the CDC's HIV prevention programs.
Similarly, the full Senate's failure to end debate on the its version of the THUD spending bill, S. 1243, by a 54-43 vote suggests the Senate will have difficulty passing spending bills that are in line with its FY '14 budget resolution. The THUD bill was the first FY '14 spending bill to go to the full Senate. With the exception of Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), all Senate Republicans (some of whom had previously supported the bill) voted against ending debate which stopped the bill from moving to the Senate floor for now. The Senate THUD Appropriations bill does not include sequestration, the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect March 1, 2013, in its bill, and is marked at $54 billion; this is $10 billion higher than the House THUD Appropriations Bill, which does include sequestration moving forward.
The situation in both chambers indicates that at the start of the recess a September agreement on a CR that allows the government to operate on October 1 will be difficult to reach. The chances for a "grand bargain" to repeal or replace sequestration by Oct. 1 are even slimmer. There are no official House-Senate negotiations on either reconciling the two budget resolutions or over individual appropriation bills. There are reports in the media that a bipartisan group of Senators are holding talks with White House officials but no solid progress is evident. There are also reports of separate meetings between White House officials, including the President's Chief of Staff, and Congressional Republicans, but, again, no signs of progress on reaching agreements.
The seriousness of the stalled budget and appropriations processes was perhaps best summed up by House Appropriations Committee Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY). After the debacle of the House THUD bill, he criticized the decision, saying: "The House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago. Thus I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration -- and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts -- must be brought to end."
That's the message that must be made loud and clear to all Senators and Representatives during the August recess. Sequestration is a bad policy and must be replaced. AIDS United strongly calls for replacing sequestration with a balanced approach that includes meaningful revenue growth and that allows for optimal funding support for critical public health and safety net programs, including Medicaid, Medicare, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). We urge you to take time in August to consider meeting with your Members of Congress and attend Town Halls. Let your voice be heard!