Congress has adjourned for the year. The 115th Congress will convene on January 3rd. Republicans will still control the majorities in both parties, although with slightly smaller margins. Next year’s legislative calendar will be busier, with changes to the tax code, to the Affordable Care Act, and funding for an infrastructure bill likely to be featured prominently. The Senate will also devote time early in the year to confirming a new Supreme Court Justice. Funding the government will also be on the list.
When Congress adjourned this month it did so without completing one of its basic functions, which is to fund the government for the following year. Actually, fiscal year 2017 began on October 1st. Funding the government means passing twelve appropriations bills that fund all of the different federal agencies. In the past, the bills were debated and passed individually, but in recent years that has not been a workable process, and now they are all grouped together in one huge bill, the Omnibus Appropriations bill. Congress had given itself until mid-December to accomplish that, as it has in recent years, with a continuing resolution to keep things running since October 1st. However, the elections changed this schedule. Both parties agreed to move the process into next year so that the incoming administration could have input into the spending priorities for fiscal year 2017.
The new Omnibus Bill deadline is April 28, which gives the Senate extra time to work on it because the Supreme Court nomination process will be lengthy. So at best, the budget and spending priorities for the new fiscal year that began in October will be completed seven months into the fiscal year. Programs that affect counselors at the Department of Education, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other agencies may well be on hold, and officials will not have many answers until Congress finally passes the Omnibus Bill. One more example that it’s not business as usual in Washington, for better or for worse.