Sights on September 30

A major gap between Democrats’ and Republicans’ thinking on appropriations now makes it inevitable that Congress will pass a temporary measure — the all-too-common “continuing resolution” (CR) — to keep the government running at current spending levels. 

A major jolt came last week when Senate appropriators scrapped a plan to mark up legislation to fund federal education and job training programs — the key Labor, HHS and Education funding bill that is so important to community colleges. Partisan disagreements focused on a proposed Democratic amendment regarding federal funding for family planning, but broader disagreements on funding levels have also gummed up Senate action.

Partisan differences were sharpened as well by Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby’s (R-Alabama) proposed funding allocations for each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees. The plan calls to move a significant part of the funding from domestic appropriations bills (which include money for education and job training) to the Homeland Security bill, which includes funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall.

There is also a major overall spending gap between what the Senate and House are seeking for Labor, HHS and Education. The Senate’s allocation for programs under these departments would increase funding by less than 1 percent, which is $14.5 billion (7 percent) below the amount approved by the House in May. The House-passed bill has several beneficial increases for community college priorities, including a $150 increase in the maximum Pell Grant, as well as a new $150 million community college job training program.

The American Association of Community Colleges encourages its member colleges to advocate for these priorities, as these issues will not be resolved for several weeks.

Given these dynamics, Congress will have no alternative but to pass a CR to keep the government open through mid-November as appropriators try to work through their differences. And it is possible they will not be resolved by then.

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