- Joshua Roberts/Reuters
It will be a wild and woolly September on Capitol Hill as Congress faces a massive number of legislative deadlines and initiative launches.
There’s must-pass legislation – like a bill to raise the debt ceiling and a bill to fund the government – and some long-gestating projects like the Republican plan to overhaul the tax code and a bipartisan effort to stabilize the individual health-insurance exchanges.
Throw in unexpected issues like funding for the Hurricane Harvey recovery effort and it will most likely make September the most jam-packed month of the year.
We’ve got a breakdown of all the major legislative events Congress will address in the coming weeks, along with the current state of negotiations and the worst-case scenario if lawmakers come up short.
Here’s everything Congress needs to do in checklist form
Pass a bill for Hurricane Harvey recovery
- Scott Olson/Getty Images
What it means: The federal government typically shoulders a massive amount of the financial load in response to a major disaster, and the aid needed for Harvey recovery could have a price tag as high as $100 billion.
State of negotiations: The House drafted and posted a $7.85 billion bill on Sunday, and another larger aid bill will most likely sail through. The only hiccup could come if the bill is attached to a must-pass piece of legislation like the debt ceiling or a funding bill, but even then the chances are extraordinary high it gets through.
If it doesn’t pass: There’s a slim-to-none chance that a bill for disaster relief won’t pass, despite the argument over Hurricane Sandy relief in 2013. But in the worst-case scenario, it would most likely mean state agencies and nonprofits would need to shoulder a monumental financial burden.
Fund the government
Deadline: Midnight between September 30 and October 1.
What it means: Fiscal-year 2017 is ending this month, and the government needs to pass a bill to continue to fund the federal government.
State of negotiations: A six-month continuing resolution is all but guaranteed on this one, which would fund the government at existing levels through December. Numerous issues must be ironed out, but the path appears to be much easier after reports that President Donald Trump will not demand funding for a wall along the border with Mexico as part of a bill.
If it doesn’t pass: Nonessential federal resources would be shut down, so things like national parks and some federal offices would be closed. Federal employees at these offices would be furloughed, meaning they would not go to work or receive paychecks for the duration of the shutdown.
Raise the debt ceiling
- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Deadline: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the US will hit its debt ceiling – essentially losing the ability to fund the government – on September 29. The Congressional Budget Office says it’ll happen in early October.
What it means: The debt ceiling is the limit of outstanding debt that the federal government is allowed to hold at one time. Periodically, Congress must raise the ceiling for the government to borrow more money and make payments on its debt. Technically, the Treasury Department hit the upper limit in March, but it has used “extraordinary measures” to prevent a breach.
State of negotiations: A contingent in Congress is opposed to government borrowing and therefore unwilling to back an increase, even both Republican and Democratic leadership have said it is essential. There appear to be talks in Congress about attaching a large package of aid money for Harvey to a debt-ceiling bill, which would most likely make one easier to pass. Otherwise, it appears a so-called clean increase would be more likely to pass than not with a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans pushing it through.
If it doesn’t pass: A failure to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic for the US economy and global financial markets. According to a report from Beth Ann Bovino, the chief US economist at S&P Global Ratings, a shutdown and debt-ceiling breach could be worse for the US than the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
Reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration
Deadline: End of September.
What it means: Congress needs to allocate funding and reauthorize the FAA, a technical measure not unlike the broader government funding package.
State of negotiations: Trump pushed for a privatization of the air-traffic-control system and some of the FAA functions in June, but it is a sticking point so far. This most likely means that a simple continuation of the existing authorization will be passed to avoid a shutdown, and that would kick the can on the privatization fight.
If it doesn’t pass: This would lead to a partial shutdown of the FAA, causing employees to be furloughed and freezing construction projects at airports. This would be similar to the FAA shutdown in 2011.
Fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program
- Jim Young/Reuters
Deadline: End of September.
What it means: CHIP funds health insurance and care for roughly 9 million middle- and low-income children across the US. The federal government shoulders much of the funding burden, so a bill to continue the money is necessary.
State of negotiations: Some reports suggest a variety of Affordable Care Act-related provisions could be thrown onto the CHIP-reauthorization bill, including cost-sharing subsidies or defunding measures. If nothing is agreed upon, this will also most likely be a slimmed-down reauthorization to make sure funding and care is not disrupted. The length of the funding extension and whether to keep the federal match at its increased rate, a change stemming from the ACA, must be agreed upon.
If it doesn’t pass: It would cut off a major source of funding for the program, and states would eventually exhaust federal funds for it, leading to a wait time for enrollment and, in the worst case, curtailed care for some children.
Stabilize the Obamacare exchanges
- Win McNamee/Getty Images
Deadline: Insurers must finalize their exchange-plan offerings for 2018 by Tuesday, but there may be some adjustments afterward. In reality, this probably is an ASAP.
What it means: The failure of the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law better known as Obamacare, leaves the future of the law’s individual insurance exchanges in some doubt. Passing a bill to help alleviate cost concerns and encourage insurer participation in the exchanges would help stabilize the insurance market.
State of negotiations: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is planning to have a hearing on a bipartisan stabilization bill when Congress reconvenes and a bipartisan group of governors have introduced their own stabilization plan. Whether the plans get traction remains to be seen.
If it doesn’t pass: Insurers have cited uncertainty in Washington as a reason for increased 2018 premiums in the market, so continued uncertainty would most likely lead to higher costs.
Fund the National Flood Insurance Program
Deadline: End of September.
What it means: The NFIP helps homeowners in flood-prone areas receive coverage for water damage. The program is also constantly in debt because of outdated flooding maps and needs funding to refill its coffers and pay out claims.
State of negotiations: Hurricane Harvey has led some lawmakers to insist on changes to the program, like increasing premiums to make the program solvent. It’s unclear whether there is political will and time to pass such measures, but there is growing agreement that the program needs adjustments.
If it doesn’t pass: The money to pay out claims is quickly dwindling, and some people may not get money back if the funding lapses.
Roll out a tax plan (Republicans only on this one).
Deadline: Trump and the administration have set a deadline of the end of the year to pass tax legislation, which most likely means the details need to be ironed out roughly by the end of the month.
What it means: Trump promised the most dramatic overhaul of the US tax code since President Ronald Reagan’s cuts in 1986. Selling the bill and presenting a finalized plan are the first two steps on the road to getting the bill passed.
State of negotiations: Republicans have very little by way of an actual plan. As Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, put it, there’s a skeleton – which means there’s no muscle, organs, or skin. The GOP has reportedly been unable to come to an agreement on some of the most basic question that must be addressed.
If it doesn’t pass: It would be a disaster for Trump and the GOP politically, since after healthcare it would mark two straight major legislative pushes without success.
And whatever else comes up …
- Win McNamee
This isn’t to say these are the only other things Congress needs to deal with in September. There are plenty of other deadlines and tasks that need to be taken care of. Additionally things like Trump’s plan to roll back the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and possible damage from Hurricane Irma could add to the congressioanl plate.