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« Trump issues terrible budget, Senate plan to protect Dreamers fails | Main | How would Medicaid waivers hurt women and LGBTQ people? »

Congress Acts to Fund Key Health Priorities, But Leaves Dreamers Behind

Congress Funds Key Health Priorities, But Leaves Dreamers Behind

Early this morning, Congress passed a wide-ranging budget bill to end the second government shutdown of 2018 a few hours after it began. The bill funds the government at current levels through March 23—the fifth short-term funding measure since the start of the current fiscal year in October.
But this stop-gap, unlike previous ones, finally includes a desperately needed deal to set longer-term spending levels, repealing sequestration for two years and investing in starved domestic priorities. The bill also includes an additional four years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for a total of ten years, two years of funding for community health centers, and disaster relief for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But, the bill does nothing to protect the future of close to 800,000 Dreamers—young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, many of whom have known no other home. This is why we must urge Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act now. The DREAM Act would protect the ability of DACA recipients to live and work without fear of deportation and provide them a path to citizenship.
Following Congress’ action early this morning, appropriators will now use the next six weeks to draft a rest-of-the-year omnibus appropriations package based on new spending limits.
But before we get into the details of what was in the budget bill, a quick overview of the history. In 2011, the new Republican majority (elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave) held the debt limit hostage in the middle of the Great Recession in exchange for deep cuts to spending. The result was the Budget Control Act (BCA), a two-part attack on public investment.
The first part of the BCA instituted dangerously low statutory caps on discretionary spending, the category of funding for health care programs like Title X family planning and Ryan White HIV/AIDS care, K-12 education, housing assistance, infrastructure, food and drug safety, consumer safety, environmental regulation, and more. The second part of the BCA imposed sequestration—a process of deep, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts—if Congress failed to find other ways to reduce the deficit.
Bipartisan deals in 2013 and 2015 mitigated some of those cuts, but sequestration was set to come roaring back in 2018, with hardline conservatives poised to slash critical social programs while pushing for new spending for the Pentagon.
But in a key win for progressives, today’s deal not only eliminates sequestration for FY18 and FY19, it also increases discretionary spending above the BCA caps for those years too, adding $26 billion above the caps to non-defense in FY18 and $31 billion in FY19. Just how starved for funding have these programs been since the BCA? As the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities notes, even with this boost, funding on critical domestic priorities still remains “below its level of eight years ago in inflation-adjusted terms—a sign of how much this part of the budget has been squeezed in recent years.”
However, as we noted above, the deal does not include relief for the Dreamers. Activists had hoped that blocking the budget deal would give them additional leverage in the immigration debate, with the goal of pressuring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) into scheduling a vote. On Thursday, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA, left) gave a record-breaking 8-hour speech on the House floor, reading the personal stories of over three hundred Dreamers.
But because they have no control over the House floor, House Democrats are in an even weaker position than House Republicans were when they unsuccessfully pursued a shutdown strategy in 2013 over the Affordable Care Act and again in 2015 over Planned Parenthood. It’s not clear whether blocking the budget deal this morning would have pressured Ryan or simply strengthened the hand of House conservatives hoping to strip progressive priorities from the deal.
On Monday, the Senate is scheduled to start debate on a narrow, bipartisan immigration package designed to provide relief to the Dreamers in exchange for additional funding for border security. As reported by the Washington Post, the emerging deal "would grant legal status to Dreamers who have been in the country since 2013—a larger pool of undocumented immigrants than the 1.8 million Trump supports legalizing." Importantly, it would not cut legal immigration or authorize funding for a border wall, two poison pills for progressive but top priorities for the White House.
Ryan has so far refused to commit to a House vote on the Senate package unless it satisfies hard-liners in the Trump administration, but the real power lies with moderate House Republicans. Under House rules, it only takes 23 Republicans banding together with the Democrats to bring up a bipartisan immigration bill. If a majority of House members from both parties defeat a previous question or sign a discharge petition, they could win far more than just a promise from Ryan. They could take over the House floor.
That is why it is absolutely critical that we keep up the pressure on moderate Republicans. You can use the congressional switchboard at (202) 225-3121 to call your members of Congress, and urge them to protect young immigrants by passing the DREAM Act now. 
The Fight Against Harmful Medicaid Waivers Continues in the States
As we noted last week, states continue their march toward imposing burdensome new red tape on families with Medicaid under the guise of work requirements, lifetime limits, and unnecessarily frequent confirmations of eligibility. Earlier this week, we submitted joint comments with our Phoenix-based regional coordinator, Trans Queer Pueblo, urging CMS to reject Arizona’s proposed waiver, which would particularly harm women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBTQ people. 


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