Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown at the 11th hour on September 30, the last day of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. Unfortunately, their action has probably just kicked the problem down the road.
The shutdown was averted through passage of a Continuing Resolution (CR), a stopgap measure that keeps the government operating until December 11. During the CR period, programs are funded at FY 2015 levels with an additional across the board cut of 0.02 percent.
The CR was prompted by Congress’s continued failure to pass sensible appropriations bills that provide adequate funding for critical federal programs. Reasons for not being able to pass the 13 appropriations bills depend on the individual member’s particular philosophy of government. Generally more conservative members prefer to cut the current budget even further and have more authority devolve to states and localities. On the other hand, moderate and liberal members are more inclined to favor a deal to raise the very tight budget caps, which are, to their way of thinking, insufficient to meet citizens’ needs.
The bottom line is that the already tight budget caps will continue to shrink under current law until FY 2021, making it impossible to provide adequate funding for programs about which LDA members care deeply. Those programs include ones that assist individuals with learning disabilities across the life span.
To add to the confusion, the Office of Management and Budget just announced the national debt limit will be reached by November 5, earlier than originally projected. Hitting the debt limit means the government will not have sufficient cash on hand to pay its bills unless Congress acts. The federal government’s expenditures can be as high as $60 billion a day. Members of Congress had expected to package an increase in the debt limit with an early December funding package, but now there is an urgency to get this done sooner.
The other wrinkle is the impending departure from Congress of House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) at the end of October. Mr. Boehner had already expressed interest in working with Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) to craft a two-year budget deal similar to the Ryan-Murray deal that relieved the tight caps for FY 2013 and 2014. However, with the limited time remaining in his tenure, a budget deal will be difficult to achieve.
Congress will decide very shortly on the new Speaker, expected to be Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). McCarthy is currently the House Majority Leader, and there is a lot of wrangling for that key leadership position. While Mr. Boehner had many years of experience before assuming the speakership, Mr. McCarthy is a relative newcomer and may have some difficulty directing a difficult House Republican caucus. In addition, it is likely the new majority leader will be from the more conservative wing of the party, again making any compromise both within the Republican Party and with the Democrats more difficult. This does not bode well for swift resolution of the budget crisis.
NDD United — the large national coalition that represents all sectors of the government, except defense, of which LDA is an active member — will be rallying on October 7 on the Capitol grounds to protest the budget situation and to push for a reasonable resolution to the tight budget caps. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the Democratic Whip, will sponsor the rally. LDA will be represented at the rally and is carefully monitoring all aspects of this budget battle.
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.