January 3, 2018
Congress Has a Busy Year Ahead
President Trump and congressional Republicans secured their most substantial victory since assuming office last year when they passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the most significant change to the nation’s tax code in 30 years. While passage of that bill is truly noteworthy, there isn’t much time to celebrate as the President and members of Congress return to D.C. this week. Waiting for them are a series of important pieces of legislation that will require action in the next six months.
The most pressing and immediate item is funding the federal government. Last month, with funding set to expire, Congress agreed on a one-month continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating through the holidays. That legislation expires on January 19 and negotiations are expected to begin in earnest this week. Members on both sides of the political aisle hope to be able to negotiate a long-term funding bill. Such a bill will likely require democratic votes in the House of Representatives and will require Democratic votes in the Senate (where 60 votes are necessary to pass an appropriations bill). This political reality makes passing a long-term spending bill complicated. At one point last summer, it appeared a deal had been reached. Democrats would provide votes for a long-term bill in return for a vote on legislation providing relief to immigrants who came to the United States as a children and are now facing deportation. Those negotiations, however, have not appeared to advance beyond the initial progress made last summer, putting the deal in jeopardy. Should Congress be able to reach such a deal, we continue to urge members of the House and Senate to accept the recommendation of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee regarding funding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA): $150 million, or level funding, for fiscal year 2018.
As negotiations around the budget intensify, Congress is already girding itself for what could be the most explosive debate of this congressional term. You may recall that in 2011, President Obama and conservative Republicans engaged in an intense standoff related to the debt ceiling and whether Congress should use its authority to approve an increase. Ultimately, a compromise was reached whereby Congress agreed to raise the limit in return for a statutory reduction in federal spending known as sequestration. The debt ceiling will once again need to be raised this year, likely in late spring. As a result, members of Congress and the Trump administration (which supports raising the limit) are already working behind the scenes to secure enough votes for an increase. What remains to be seen is whether the more conservative members of the Republican caucus will be able to raise a similar level of opposition.
While many other issues may arise, these are the most immediate matters facing Congress and the Trump administration as work resumes this week. We also expect the President to release his FY2019 budget recommendations to Congress either later this month or in early February. Although we made significant strides in Congress last year to mount opposition to the President’s call for elimination of the NEA, we could face the same recommendation from the President this year. NASAA will monitor all of these developments closely and keep you apprised of any that could impact state arts agencies.
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