The Lame Duck Congress

The Lame Duck Congress

Published on November 27, 2018

Rosanna close-up
Director, Washington D.C. Office

The Lame Duck Congress –¬†What‚Äôs happening in DC?

The 2018 midterm elections gave us another split Congress. Since then, it’s been a political fiasco.  Those running for leadership positions have been garnering support, and fighting off dissidents, ahead of caucus meetings to nominate candidates for the 116th Congress.  Final floor votes are expected for January 3, 2019.  Meanwhile, Congress is full steam ahead.  Here are a couple of things in the mix:

Appropriations:¬†Lawmakers still need to fulfill its most basic function: fund the government. Even in a Republican-controlled Congress, funding the government was no easy task.¬† The prospect of a divided chamber could lead to a deeper fault line in Washington. Given that reality, there is a chance Congress could opt for a new CR and punting negotiations ‚Äď such as border wall funding ‚Äď to next year.¬† On the docket are seven spending bills currently under a continuing resolution (CR) until December 7: Agriculture; Commerce/Justice/Science; Financial Services;¬†Homeland Security; Interior-Environment; State-Foreign Ops; and Transportation-HUD.¬†Throwing a wrench in the process is President Trump, who has threatened lawmakers with an end-of-year government shutdown if his petition for border wall funding is not satisfied. His latest request: $5 billion. This figure is facing a standoff between both legislative chambers where the Senate bill provides $1.6 billion and the House bill provides $5 billion.

Tax Package:¬†¬†House Ways and Means lame duck chairman, Kevin Brady (R-TX), released a new tax package late yesterday night.¬† The bill includes one-year tax extenders, changes to requirements in retirement plans, and temporary tax relief provisions for 2018 disaster victims.¬† Division B of the legislation also includes language to create a new Independent Office of Appeals at the IRS and reform the agency’s operations.¬† It‚Äôs possible the House rushes the process and holds a floor vote¬†this week¬†on the 297-page¬†bill.¬†¬†Unless amendments are expected, there is nothing specifically for Puerto Rico.¬†

Disaster Supplemental: The tax package may satisfy some of the immediate needs for 2018 disaster victims, but in a new effort to shine light on Puerto Rico’s outstanding needs, Governor Rosselló sent Congressional leadership a letter urging for additional federal funds and urging support on tax incentives. Put simply, the governor is requesting:

  • cost-share waiver for FEMA Cat. A and B funding
  • two-year Medicaid fix
  • additional $600M of Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) funding to avert looming March 2019 cliff
  • designation of new start construction for Ca√Īo Mart√≠n Pe√Īa
  • expand designation of Opportunity Zones to all of Puerto Rico
  • extension of federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
  • expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC)
  • creation of a new 25% tax credit for tourism projects in Puerto Rico

Given the ongoing negotiations, it is unclear whether lawmakers will allow for this tranche of funding to address victims of 2017 disasters.

Budget:  As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Congress created the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform, a 16-member bipartisan, bicameral committee led by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Representatives Steve Womack (R-AR) and Nita Lowey (D-NY).  As mandated, the committee is working on legislation that would significantly change how Congress authorizes budget resolutions.  Though the text is being marked up, the preliminary text calls for the adoption of two-year budget resolutions (instead of the usual annual resolutions) in odd-numbered years. This however, does not preclude members from having to pass annual appropriations bills. Their due date for an internal vote is November 30.

Farm Bill: Agriculture committee leaders want to finalize slow-moving negotiations on the 2018 Farm Bill. It’s still unclear if they will be successful during the lame duck. The new Chairman of the Agriculture committee, Rep. Peterson (D-MN) has already pledged to work on writing a new 2019 Farm Bill if they are unable to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement.

January 2019:  Alas, the clock is ticking and in no time we will have a new Congress. We’ve outlined below some of the key committees for Puerto Rico issues, along with their expected leaders and priorities.