Late Wednesday this past week, the House and Senate passed a bill to reopen the parts of the government that were closed in the shutdown.
H.R. 2775 was the bill. Originally a bill to require verification of household income for people receiving health insurance subsidies under Obamacare, it became the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014.
President Obama signed it on Thursday, making it Public Law 113-46.
So what does it do?
- Most importantly, it funds the federal government until January 15, 2014 at the same level as in fiscal year 2013. That’s about $11,200 per U.S. family in spending.
- It also suspends the limit on the federal government’s debt until February 7, 2014. (Coincidentally, the debt topped $17 trillion this week—about $168,000 per U.S. family, or nearly $54,000 per person.)
- The act sets up a process for verifying the incomes of people who apply for health insurance subsidies under Obamacare, the topic of the original version of the bill.
- It provides back pay to the 800,000 government workers who were furloughed during the shutdown.
- It also creates a joint budget conference to work on possible compromises and report back to Congress by December 13, 2013. (Editorial: This will fail.)
- There are a number of spending items in the bill. The United States Army Corps of Engineers was granted an authorization increase of $2.2 billion in funding to improve a series of locks and dams on the Illinois-Kentucky border. Another $450 million was allocated to help repair the damage in Colorado from the 2013 Colorado floods. The United States Department of the Interior got $36 million and the United States Forest Service $600 million to cover fighting forest fires and their damage.
- The law also provides a payment of $174,000 to Bonnie Lautenberg, the widow of Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who died this year.
- The act allows Congress to enact a “disapproval” resolution that would end the suspension of the debt ceiling. (Editorial: It won’t.)
- The act extends the sunset date on the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act one year, to Dec. 8, 2015.
- And, notably, it declines to block President Obama’s proposal for a one percent pay increase for most federal civilian employees on January 1, 2014. The raise, coming after a three-year federal pay freeze, was proposed by President Obama in August 2013 and automatically goes into effect unless blocked by Congressional budget legislation.
Now, about those editorial comments.
Congress won’t pass a resolution disapproving and ending the suspension of the debt ceiling. The Senate’s majority does not want the debt limit to constrain federal spending, so it will bottle up any resolution to do so.
The budget conference won’t materially change budget debates. Republicans and Democrats are just too far apart, and neither one sees more political benefit in compromising. It’s a reunion of the “supercommittee,” which failed last year.
So the end of the government shutdown and the suspension of the debt ceiling set the date for the next dance: early 2014.
Happy re-opening of the federal government! See you early next year for the next round!