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Straight Talk for Seniors®: The Fall Agenda in Congress

The remainder of 2017 promises to be another three months of critical legislative debates in Congress for older Americans. Here’s what to look for, based on what we know today.

Affordable Care Act (ACA)

Efforts to repeal and replace the ACA dominated more of this year’s calendar than predicted. With the collapse of the latest Graham-Cassidy bill last week, the debate is now on hold. Bipartisan efforts to shore up the ACA health exchanges may continue, but another attempt to repeal the law and/or cap and cut Medicaid are unlikely to surface again until 2018.

FY18 Budget Resolution and Tax Reform

This week, Congress’ primary focus will be the fiscal year 2018 budget resolution, which provides a broad framework and process for moving forward on tax and spending cuts this year.

In July, the House Budget Committee passed a resolution that includes $4.4 trillion in cuts to mandatory programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and $1.3 trillion in cuts to non-defense discretionary programs like the Older Americans Act (OAA). That resolution is expected to be debated on the House floor this week.

In the Senate, the Budget Committee is scheduled to consider its budget resolution this week. Unlike the House version, the Senate bill:

  • Does not include instructions to cut specific mandatory programs, but calls for over $4 trillion in such cuts over the next 10 years, consistent with the House resolution.
  • Cuts non-defense discretionary programs by $632 billion over 10 years.
  • Provides level funding for defense spending (the House bill proposes a $929 billion increase over 10 years), but also allows for growth in a fund for defense activities overseas.
  • Includes at least $1.5 trillion in tax cuts (the House bill does not specify an amount). These would not be offset, and therefore significantly increase the budget deficit.

The full Senate is expected to vote on its budget resolution in late October. Both chambers will then work on an identical compromise resolution, presumably with a goal of completing it within the next month, since the Senate budget resolution sets a deadline of Nov. 13 for the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees to craft the tax legislation.

Similar to the ACA debate, the compromise budget resolution is expected to set up an expedited process known as reconciliation which, among other things, allows the Senate to pass tax reform legislation with only 50 votes with Vice President Pence casting the tie-breaking vote.

Meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee is expected to move legislation by late October based on the tax cut framework released by Congressional Republican leadership and the White House last week.

FY18 Appropriations

Also on the agenda is finalizing FY18 appropriations for government-funded programs, which are now level funded under a continuing resolution (CR) until Dec. 8.

There are several paths forward on this. Congress could simply extend the CR past Dec. 8. Or, lawmakers could agree to a broader budget deal that raises the caps imposed on non-defense and defense discretionary spending. Any attempts to increase programs that exceed those caps would trigger automatic across-the-board cuts, or sequestration.

Federal Funding for Low-Income Benefits Outreach

On Sept. 30, funding authority expired for an important program that connects low-income Medicare beneficiaries with benefits to help them afford their health care costs.

Originally funded under the 2008 Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA), the funding is critical to getting eligible older adults and people with disabilities the help they need to pay for their prescription drugs and Medicare premiums and co-payments.

Actual funds will still be available until next year. But the funding authority needs to be extended, and may be addressed in the larger budget deal hammered out in December.

Recess Opportunities

This month, there will be several opportunities to educate your members of Congress on how these debates impact older adults. The Senate will be on recess the week of Oct. 8, and the House will be on recess Oct. 6-9 and the week of Oct. 15. Use our Recess Toolkit to connect with your lawmakers while they are home.

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Marci Phillips

About Marci Phillips

Marci Phillips is NCOA's Director of Public Policy and Advocacy. She oversees NCOA's advocacy efforts related to budget and appropriations for seniors’ programs, Older Americans Act, economic security and hunger, and elder justice.