On September 30, Congress passed a stopgap funding measure known as a Continuing Resolution (CR) to allow the government to function until December 11th when the CR funding runs out. This act prevented an anticipated government shutdown because Congress did not complete action on appropriations legislation for fiscal year (FY) 2016.

Prior to the passage of the CR, 16 member organizations of the Children’s Budget Coalition led by First Focus sent this letter to Congressional leaders urging lawmakers to pass a short-term funding CR to prevent a government shutdown and provide certainty of services for children. Over the 16 days in 2013, when the government was shutdown, programs and services were compromised and our economy lost $24 billion, causing real world impact on children.

For instance, in 2013, Head Start programs had to shut their doors on as many as 19,000 disadvantaged children, leaving them without the chance to learn and without access to nutritious food. For the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a shutdown would mean a shortage of food on the kitchen table for over 45 million Americans – half of whom are children. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was unable to support the seasonal influenza program and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) also had to turn away patients taking part in clinical trials, including children with cancer and other diseases.

In addition to averting a shutdown, the CR conforms to topline discretionary spending limit for FY 2016 established by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) with a slight across the board cut to defense and non-defense spending to keep everything under the budget caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011.  It was signed into law by the President on September 30. Congress (and the White House) now has a little over two months to address funding issues for Fiscal Year 2016.
Notably, a shutdown was looking very possible around the inclusion of Planned Parenthood funding, with threats by Republicans to bring down Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). But Boehner announced his resignation, effective at the end of October, to prevent such an act among other reasons.

In the end, Democrats, Republican appropriators and allies of Boehner voted together to pass the CR out of the House by a 277-151 margin and cleared it for the president’s signature. The Senate passed the CR hours earlier by a 78-20 vote. It was opposed by a group of Republicans, including fiscal and defense hawks and social conservatives, opposed to Planned Parenthood. Senate Democrats had previously blocked consideration of a similar continuing resolution that would have stripped the organization of federal funding.

To put this all in context, Continuing Resolutions have become fairly common practice by Congress as a result of not completing their work on the 12 annual appropriations bills. For FY 16, a long-term CR would result in continued cuts to key initiatives and negate the few incremental funding increases included in this year’s funding bills, such as NIH, CDC, special education, Head Start, and programs that support Native American youth. Plus, CRs are not popular with federal agencies, which are forced to enter a new fiscal year operating under the previous year’s spending priorities, which restricts their ability to fund new initiatives, terminate spending for certain programs or quickly shift dollars to meet emerging needs.

As background, a desire by the White House and congressional Democrats to fund the government at levels above the spending limits set by the Budget Control Act forced an impasse with congressional Republicans who kept FY 2016 funding levels in appropriations bills that aligned with the budget caps set by the BCA. Much of this attributed to the concurrent budget resolution, S. Con. Res. 11, which provided the Department of Defense with an additional $38 billion in funding above the President’s Budget Request in the Overseas Contingency Operations account that is not subject to Budget Control Act limits. Since then, Senate Democrats have filibustered FY 2016 appropriations bills brought to the floor for debate with an interest in seeing that an equal level of funding be provided to discretionary spending on non-defense federal programs and defense programs.

Yet, some Republicans have seen the caps as integral to deficit reduction over the past few years.  As a result, while appropriations bills passed in the Committee, not one Senate appropriations bill has been debated on the Senate floor this year.

Children’s spending only amount to less than 8 percent of the federal budget, even though children are 25 percent of our nation’s population. Discretionary spending for children fell 6.9 percent since 2011 as a result of caps, including a nearly 20 percent reduction in education spending. If nothing is done, the non-defense side of the discretionary budget, which includes the lion’s share of children’s initiatives, will decline to 3.1 percent of GDP — the lowest level in at least 50 years.

Since the CR passed, President Obama has been very clear that he does not intend to sign any spending measures that stick to the sequestration caps for FY 2016, further buttressing the position of congressional Democrats. Instead, he is urging Congress to come up with a long-term budget deal and raising domestic spending caps that are equal to that of defense. We are encouraged that Members in both parties, including Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), recently signaled interest in avoiding sequestration for FY 2016 by raising both defense and non-defense discretionary budget caps. The Children’s Budget Coalition has been advocating for Congress to raise non-defense caps to a level on-par with defense spending to ensure that children’s initiatives are protected in a long-term agreement. Any further cuts to these initiatives would be extremely harmful to our Nation’s next generation.

Members of Congress and their staff are the early stages of pulling together a deal, discussing ways to modify or adjust the Budget Control Act to permit additional spending in FY 2016 and possibly FY 2017.  Such an agreement would likely require a mix of savings (spending cuts) and revenue (taxes and fees) to enable spending in excess of the limits established by the Budget Control Act. In addition to the CR expiring on December 11, and the debt ceiling running out in early November, Speaker Boehner will depart Congress at the end of October, which is expected to expedite this agreement.

Longer term budget agreement would mean a stronger commitment to Kids: http://bit.ly/1Meoj22 v/ @First_Focus #RaisetheCaps #DontCutKids
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Want to learn more? First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on the federal budget.

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