“NO” on Lame Duck Continuing Resolution (H.R. 5325)

This week, the Senate will vote on a 10-week continuing resolution (H.R. 5325), which in its current form is a substitute amendment (#5082) introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) 41%. The amendment — the Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, and Zika Response and Preparedness Act — falls far short of conservative expectations. Throughout the summer and into the fall, conservatives said Congress should ensure the length of any continuing resolution did not require a post-election session of Congress. And throughout the appropriations process, Heritage Action evaluated each individual appropriations measure on the following three criteria: 1) level of spending; 2) funding of bad programs; and 3) exclusion of conservative policy riders. Heritage Action also uses these criteria to evaluate any continuing resolution, as well as factoring in a fourth, additional, and critical criteria: length of time.  

Length of Time.The current bill would allow funding to lapse on December 9, requiring a post-election lame duck session of Congress. Some will argue that bill could be worse, but requiring a lame duck session will ensure things do get worse. A recent report from The Heritage Foundation outlines the history of lame duck sessions:

“In recent years, Members of Congress have planned on taking up controversial issues during lame-duck sessions in order to avoid explaining their votes to the electorate. Congress now increasingly relies on lame-duck sessions to conduct its regular work. This practice undermines the ability of the American people to hold their representatives accountable because it allows Members to deliberately postpone unpopular decisions until after their constituents cast their votes.”

That is why over 100 conservative leaders, representing millions of Americans, recently sent a letter to Republican leadership asking them not to hold a lame-duck session after the November elections:

“Congress must not provide President Obama with an additional opportunity to enact his agenda of progressive social engineering programs and job-killing economic policies before he leaves office. A lame-duck session would be his swan song: He can be expected to leave no arm untwisted, no threat unmade, no quid un-quod, to get his dream-policies enacted, his liberal judges confirmed, and his international agreements approved…”

As President of The Heritage Foundation and former Senator Jim DeMint recently wrote:

“Even legislators who hold onto their seats know that a lame duck is the perfect time to sneak through massive, big-government spending bills when most Americans have happily turned to family and football after election season. For decades, Congress has intentionally delayed controversial legislation until it can be passed under the cover of a lame-duck session.

“Members of Congress who would usually object to these shenanigans are often dissuaded because leadership warns of dire consequences should these big, ‘must-pass’” bills not go through at the end of the year. And believe me, speaking from personal experience, it’s no fun being the guy keeping everyone at work in the Capitol building over Christmas vacation.”

Level of Spending. The vast majority of Republicans rejected the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, a budget-cap-breaking deal negotiated by Speaker Boehner and President Obama that raised the debt ceiling with no offsets and broke the spending caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011, despite the fact our country is facing a debt crisis of almost $20 trillion. Conservatives rightly rejected that approach and argued for passing a more responsible budget at the beginning of 2016, claiming that Congress should abide by the previous budget caps, and enact a budget at the lower $1.040 trillion level, instead of the $1.070 trillion as set by the budget deal.

Despite conservative objections, both chambers moved forward with appropriations bills marked to the higher number.  Even though none of those inflated appropriations bills became law, both chambers now want to move a continuing resolution spends at the higher budget numbers, and which will add to the debt and deficit.  H.R. 5325 contains four main fiscal components:

  1. A full year Military Construction and Veterans Administration appropriations bill that spends at the higher budget number.
  2. Funding for the 11 other appropriations bills, also at the higher budget numbers from last years’ omnibus, reduced across the board by 0.496% to bring the total to $1.067 trillion. However, the Senate CR prioritizes non-defense spending by increasing it $1.6 billion above the domestic spending cap, but reduces defense by $4.6 billion below the defense spending cap.
  3. $1.1 billion in emergency spending to fight Zika. While $400 million is supposedly offset by spending “rescissions,” the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, in reality, only $75 million of the $1.1 billion will be recovered over 10 years. This means that approximately $1 billion of these new funds are ultimately unpaid for – adding to the debt and deficit.
  4. $500 million in additional emergency spending for Louisiana flood relief (also non-offset) – despite the fact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) still has $3.4 billion available to spend on disasters for 2016.

This higher spending makes it more likely the caps will be broken in the next fiscal year, as The Heritage Foundation explained earlier this year:

“Worst of all, by caving to higher spending levels for 2017, breaking the budget caps again in fiscal year 2018—which are set to $16 billion below current levels—almost becomes a foregone conclusion for the big spenders in Congress. This sets up the next Congress to go back on its promise to rein in spending once again, erasing the one modicum of fiscal restraint imposed on spending during the Obama administration.”

Funding of Bad Programs. A highly contested part of the Zika funding battle was whether or not Planned Parenthood, and particularly its affiliate in Puerto Rico, Profamilias, would have access to the additional funds. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) opposed the language contained in the House passed conference report of the MilCon/VA/Zika bill earlier this year, because it was difficult, but not impossible, for Profamilias to access the Zika reimbursement funds. However, the Senate CR language eases Planned Parenthood’s concerns.

The Senate language replaces the House funding and restrictions with two new funding streams of $75 million and $20 million, but without explicit restrictions on who would be eligible for these funds. Specifically, the Senate version dropped the Medicaid requirement and makes the grants discretionary by allowing for “reimbursements” of Zika related health care expenses. This means that no one would be guaranteed money, but Profamilias would now be eligible.

According to Roger Severino, Director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society:

“As if reauthorizing millions upon millions in taxpayer dollars to the nation’s largest abortion provider weren’t bad enough, Planned Parenthood has strong-armed Congress into also getting a cut of emergency funding for combating the Zika virus.

“Under the continuing resolution, Planned Parenthood will be eligible for a raise even though it should have been disqualified from taxpayer funding long ago because of its callous treatment of human life.  Congress should fund life-affirming health care providers that are ready to deal with the Zika threat comprehensively, not abortion providers trying to expand their profit base.

“It’s shameful that Planned Parenthood and its congressional allies were able to hold emergency health funding hostage until ‘Big Abortion’ got a cut of the new money. Congress should fund compassionate and life-giving care with taxpayer funds, not an abortion industry that has disqualified itself by placing profits over respect for human life.”

Exclusion of Conservative Policy Riders. While Heritage Action cautioned that exchanging temporary conservative policy riders in exchange for a lame duck session will give President Obama and unaccountable lawmakers one more chance to pass permanent policies in the dead of night, some conservatives outlined a series of policy riders that should included in any continuing resolution regardless of length:

  • Preventing the transition of the control of the Internet from U.S. hands to an international body called the “Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number (ICANN).
  • Setting up a more stringent vetting system for Syrian refugees.
  • Blocking the Department of Labor’s new overtime rules.

None of these riders were included in the current version of the Senate bill.

As previously mentioned, Heritage Action evaluated each individual appropriations measure on the following three criteria: 1) level of spending; 2) funding of bad programs; and 3) exclusion of conservative policy riders. And, for the purposes of the CR, Heritage Action also considers 4) length of time.

The substitute amendment to H.R. 5325 fails each of these criteria.   

Heritage Action opposes a short-term continuing resolution (H.R. 5325), including McConnell Substitute Amendment #5082, and reserves the right to include any vote to advance or approve the measure as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.