Congress Reaches an Agreement….For Now
After 16 days of gridlock, partisan temper tantrums, and lost paychecks by government workers, Congress finally approved—and the President signed—a bill that reopens and funds the federal government.
The good news is this national nightmare is over: government workers are back to work, national parks are reopened, and the vital services that so many people depend on—from cancer research to Head Start—are back up and running.
The bad news: When House Leadership allowed raising the debt ceiling to become an issue of debate, our country came dangerously close to defaulting and causing an economic crisis of unknown proportions. And this debate was not without cost—according to the New York Times the shutdown cost $3.1 billion in gross domestic product from lost government services. Just debating the debt ceiling likely cost us billions of dollars as well. In 2011, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) reported when Congress debated the debt limit at length, the cost to U.S. taxpayers was $1.3 billion.
And the really, really bad news? Congress is going to have to deal with government funding and the debt ceiling all over again in a few short months since no real solutions were agreed to, just short-term extensions.
So what exactly was included in the final agreement approved by Congress?
1. Ended the shutdown and funds the federal government through January 15, 2014- The government shut down in the first place because federal funding ran out at the end of the fiscal year on October 1st and Congress failed to take action. The bill passed last week by Congress extends federal funding through mid-January. Furloughed workers will receive back pay and states will be reimbursed for the cost they covered during the shutdown.
Still this doesn’t mean harm wasn’t done. Some government workers did not have enough savings to cover two weeks with no pay. The Washington Post featured a story about John Anderson, a father and line cook at the American Indian Museum, who suffered greatly from the shutdown. Moreover, the shutdown was incredibly harmful for low-income people that rely on government services like WIC, Meals on Wheels, and Head Start. And for moms like Mary, the shutdown literally put her life at risk.
2. The debt ceiling is suspended through February 7, 2014- The Treasury Department can borrow additional funds and the U.S. can meet our financial obligations until February 7th. After that, the Treasury will again need to “employ extraordinary measures” and the debt ceiling will have to be raised by Congress in order to avoid default.
And what wasn’t included in the bill?
1. No delays or reductions in funding to Obamacare were included in the agreement- Despite Senator Cruz and his posse’s best efforts, the healthcare law remains intact and people can continue to sign up for coverage.
2. No decisions were made about long-term budget spending or deficit reduction- The harmful across-the-board cuts implemented by the sequester remain. In order to get rid of these cuts, Congress will need to pass additional budget legislation. We remain optimistic that a replacement of the sequester will occur in early-2014.
By December 13th, a bi-partisan Senate-House budget conference committee will have to report out plans for further fiscal and budget reforms (which will have to be passed by January 15th, otherwise we face an additional Continuing Resolution or government shutdown).
Much is still unknown about the path moving forward, but we do know that the voices of moms will be critical in the coming months. Lobbyists for big business and the wealthy will be in high gear as Congress negotiates a new budget and moms and dads on Main Street must stand up loud and clear for kids and vulnerable families. Unless, Congress knows that their constituents are closely watching the budget, wealthy individuals and corporations will avoid paying their fair share.
We are interested in hearing from you about how programs funded by the federal budget help your family. Sharing the voices of moms and dads across the country is a powerful tool in this budgetary fight. Please go here to share your thoughts and experiences: http://www.momsrising.org/member_stories/topic/we-need-your-voice-to-protect-kids-in-the-federal-budget/