Congress Leaves Town with Unfinished Business

Myrna, Mandlawitz, Esq. LDA, Director of Public Policy

Myrna Mandlawitz, Esq.
LDA, Director of Public Policy

Once again Congress has kicked the tough decisions down the road.  Since early spring, Senate Appropriations Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) have worked to steer Congress back to the normal schedule for determining spending for the new fiscal year (FY 2015), which begins on October 1, 2014.  Despite those efforts, Congress left town on September 19 without completing the appropriations process.

Heading into the fall election, Congress wanted to avoid at all costs a repeat of last year’s government shutdown.  Therefore, before concluding its pre-election work session, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR), a stopgap measure that keep will keep government agencies afloat until December 11.   

After the November election, a lame duck Congress will reconvene to make decisions about funding.  On the appropriations front, they basically have three choices.  First they can extend the CR for a short period of time or even for a full year.  Second, they may choose to pass an omnibus spending bill, providing specific funding levels for all agencies for the rest of FY 2015. The third option involves rolling some of the 12 agency spending bills into an omnibus and leaving the remaining agencies to operate under another CR until the end of the fiscal year. 

The outcome of the election will heavily influence how Congress chooses to proceed on spending.  Most likely the debate will hinge less on the specific amounts allocated to the various government programs and functions, but rather on policy.  Philosophical differences between the two parties regarding the role and level of involvement of the federal government in different programs are always heightened if the majority in either chamber of Congress switches. 

 On a positive note, as Congress prepared to leave town, a bill of interest and importance to LDA members moved closer to final passage.  Passed earlier in the House, the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) authorizing the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, passed in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) is one of the centers funded under this law.  In addition ESRA includes money for the Regional Educational Laboratories and the Comprehensive Centers tasked with providing research and technical assistance to State departments of education and local school districts to implement the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including services to students with disabilities.  We expect this bill to be finalized in the lame duck session.

As a reminder, LDA provides a monthly online update of what’s happening in Washington through its Legislative News.  Post-election, we will be providing information about new members of Congress who have expressed support for issues of importance to LDA members.  Stay tuned! 

 

Myrna Mandlawitz, M.Ed., J.D., is the Director of Public Policy for LDA of America. A native of Virginia, she has worked for over 20 years as a consultant/lobbyist on special and general education. Ms. Mandlawitz spent fourteen years as a classroom teacher and assisted in the development of Virginia’s program for infants and toddlers with disabilities. She is the immediate past president of the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition of 114 national organizations supporting increased federal investment in education.
 
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