Congress will return from August recess September 5th and have a mere 12 legislative days to address a number of "must pass" legislative priorities including the expiration of discretionary appropriations that must be renewed within the constraints of the Budget Control Act (BCA) for fiscal year 2018, the debt limit, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). On top of this, Congress will also need to provide significant funding for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
During the Obama administration, Congress exercised little fiscal restraint (outside of the Budget Control Act of 2011) and routinely passed last-minute, short-term continuing resolutions or trillion-dollar spending packages with little to no reforms. The failures of the past must not continue. In November of 2016, the American people elected the party of "fiscal responsibility" to lead all three branches of the federal government. The Republican Party now has a clear opportunity to live up to its name by enacting fiscally responsible legislation into law this September.
Appropriations/Budget Control Act
On fiscal year 2018 appropriations, Congress should follow President Trump's lead by sticking to the spending levels established under the BCA. Congress should break the Obama-era firewall between defense and non-defense spending and fully fund the U.S. military via corresponding cuts to domestic programs. Because the BCA has been the most effective mechanism for controlling the growth of discretionary spending, Congress should extend the overall cap through 2021. Longstanding conservative policy provisions should also be included in the appropriations measures.
Our national debt is quickly approaching $20 trillion and has already exceeded annual U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). This kind of spending-induced government debt slows economic growth, restricts job creation, wage increases, and business expansion. Before Congress agrees to raise the debt limit any further, it should deliver on candidate Trump's promise to "start to pay down our $19 trillion in debt." Even a small step toward this promise, such as strengthening the statutory pay-go that removes the exemption for non-trust fund, mandatory spending programs, would send the right signal to the American people that the Republican Party is committed to addressing the structural nature of America's annual deficit.
Federal Aviation Administration
The FAA's legal authority expires September 30, 2017 and is long overdue for reform. America's current aviation system has fallen well behind our foreign counterparts due to excessive government regulation and a broken aviation finance system. But thanks to the persistent work of Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recently introduced the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act (H.R. 2997), that would turn the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system into a standalone government-sanctioned, non-profit corporation and reauthorize the FAA for fiscal years 2018-2023. While not perfect, this bill would free air traffic control services from federal government bureaucrats and allow the new entity to innovate and improve while ensuring flight safety and saving taxpayer dollars.
National Flood Insurance Program & Hurricane Harvey
The NFIP is also set to expire September 30, 2017. Through the NFIP, the federal government maintains a monopoly on virtually all primary flood insurance for homeowners and businesses, and owes nearly $25 billion to U.S. taxpayers. The program has failed to adequately map flood risks and actually promotes development in flood zones through generous subsidies, which worsens the devastation of natural disasters. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, reforming the NFIP is needed now more than ever. Additional borrowing authority may be necessary in order to cover claims to policyholders in the areas impacted by Harvey, but this should be accompanied by reforms that would initiate the phase-out of the national flood insurance monopoly in favor of a private insurance market.
Additional funding authorized for Harvey relief efforts should meet the requirements of emergency designated spending: necessary, sudden, urgent, unforeseen, and not permanent. Funding that does not meet this criteria should be fully offset and remain within the BCA spending caps. It is imperative to avoid the mistakes of congressional efforts to respond to Sandy in 2012.
State Children's Health Insurance Program
This joint federal-state low-income children insurance program is also set to expire September 30, 2017. Originally designed as a federal-state partnership, the program has largely become another expensive federal program that has failed to provide the quality of care or choice our families and children deserve. Congress should convert SCHIP funding into a defined contribution program, thus giving parents the option of enrolling their children in any health plan of their choice, including, if available, employer-based coverage. Congress should require the states to share more of the cost of the program by limiting federal payment over time to coverage for children at, or below, 250 percent of the federal poverty line.
While addressing all of these expiring legislative priorities in a fiscally responsible way is a challenging task, Congress has all the necessary tools at their disposal to do the right thing. President Trump and Republicans in Congress were voted into office, in part, to help get our fiscal house in order. The month of September provides Congress with multiple opportunities to do just that and show the American people it can effectively govern.
Heritage Foundation: A September Action Guide for Congress in 2017 (2017)
Heritage Foundation: Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for Fiscal Year 2018 (2017)
Heritage Foundation: 2017 Debt Limit Should Trigger Spending Limit-with Enforcement (2017)
Heritage Foundation: 2018 FAA Reauthorization: Potential for Positive Air Traffic Control Reforms, But More Policy Improvements Needed (2017)
Heritage Foundation: The National Flood Insurance Program: Drowning in Debt and Due for Phase-out (2017)