Congress is Back in Session: What’s on the Agenda?
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Congress is Back in Session: What’s on the Agenda?

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September 6, 2013

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Use our Autumn Advocacy Toolkit to contact your members of Congress on these issues

Congress returned from its summer recess on Sept. 9, and lawmakers have just nine legislative days left in the month to address several urgent issues—with additional deadlines looming as the year comes to a close.

FY14 Appropriations

Congress has not enacted any of the FY 2014 appropriations bills to fund government programs past Sept. 30.

With the debate over Syria expected to be the top priority over the next few weeks, it's likely that a short-term continuing resolution (CR) will fund the government when the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. The latest reports are that funding may be provided at current levels through Dec. 15.

Debt Ceiling

An extension of the debt ceiling will be needed to pay for government expenses already incurred, or default will occur. The debt ceiling limit will reportedly be reached again in mid-October.

Many expect an initial short-term agreement matching the timing of the CR so they can be addressed in a single negotiation.

The Obama Administration continues to insist that it won’t negotiate on the debt limit increase. Congressional Republicans are expected to push for spending cuts in return for a longer-term debt ceiling agreement.

Sequester

If FY14 appropriations that meet the caps of the Budget Control Act are not finalized, another deadline will kick in, instituting another round of across-the-board cuts, known as sequester, in January.

The act created new overall funding caps over the next nine years. However, if enacted appropriations bills do not remain within those caps, another sequester acts as an enforcement mechanism.

With most Republicans continuing to oppose putting revenues on the table and most Democrats holding the line on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security cuts unless revenues are part of the mix, a larger budget deal to replace sequester and address FY14 spending and the debt limit remains elusive.

Farm Bill & SNAP

The Farm Bill also expires at the end of September.

Earlier this year, the House took the unprecedented step of dividing the agriculture and nutrition proposals into two measures after it was unable to pass a single bill and declined to vote on the Senate bill that passed with bipartisan support.

The House nutrition provisions include a $40 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), which would eliminate benefits for 2 to 4 million low-income individuals.

Given the wildly divergent paths that the Farm Bill took in the House and Senate, renewal of what used to be a bipartisan measure likely will be delayed again.

Additionally, lack of strong bipartisan support for SNAP means Congress is not expected to prevent the scheduled cut in all participants' benefits in November, when the stimulus funding expires.

Medicare Physician Payments

Unless Congress acts by Dec. 31, provisions that prevent cuts in Medicare physician reimbursements and continue the Qualified Individual (QI) program will expire again. The QI program is a key protection that helps nearly half a million low-income Medicare beneficiaries pay their Part B premium.

As Congress considers a permanent fix for the physician payments, NCOA continues to advocate to make QI permanent as well.

We also want to ensure that strong quality standards and primary care improvements for physicians are included, and that the fix is not paid for by shifting additional out-of-pocket costs onto beneficiaries. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill in August, the House Ways and Means Committee is expected to act in October, and the Senate Finance Committee in November.

Older Americans Act

Leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee continue to work through bipartisan negotiations on Older Americans Act (OAA) reauthorization.

However, their efforts might not see the light of day, and OAA may go unreauthorized for yet another year, unless their colleagues are pressured to move the process forward.

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Congress needs to hear from you on these issues. Use our Autumn Advocacy Toolkit for tips and talking points to use in contacting your lawmakers.

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older adults don't have to choose between paying for medicine or food.

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