Congress is coming back from August recess with an overflowing plate of legislative issues. The most urgent need is to pass an emergency aid package for Houston recovery, raise the debt ceiling by September 29, and fund the government by September 30—and all three of these items could get bundled into one “fiscal package.” But that’s just the beginning, there are other must-pass bills Congress needs to tackle this month. We’ve got everything on Congress’s September agenda explained here.
The issues Congress will try to tackle this month (updated with strikethroughs to reflect the Chuck-Nancy-Trump Deal):
- Recovery aid package for victims of Hurricane Harvey
- Increasing the debt limit
- Funding the government
- Funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
- Responding to Trump’s elimination of the DACA program
- Consideration of Trump’s absurd nominee for Dept. of Agriculture
- Massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations
- Returning to regular order on health care TrumpCare
The issue: Hurricane Harvey has devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana. Congress is expected to respond with an emergency aid package that meets short term needs like food, water, and shelter, as well as longer term needs like rebuilding homes and public infrastructure that was destroyed during the storms. Coincidentally, the National Flood Insurance Program must also be reauthorized by September 30, which Congress must do to ensure that Americans can continue to afford flood insurance.
The ask: Disaster relief must also take into account that communities of color have been the hardest hit, with adequate funding to help individuals recover and to make sure that the public services communities rely on every day are rebuilt fully and promptly. Tell your MoCs you want an inclusive aid package and that they need to oppose privatization of the National Flood Insurance Program.
The issue: The debt ceiling is a limit set by Congress on the amount of debt that Treasury can issue in order to cover our bills. Congress has to do this in order to avoid defaulting on our obligations and throwing the global economy into chaos. The key thing to remember here: raising the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending. It simply allows us to pay the bill on the debt we’ve already racked up. The uncertainty alone over whether or not Congress will raise the debt ceiling is enough to cause major financial turmoil all over the world.
The ask: There’s no reason they shouldn’t easily take care of this—but many Republicans in the House refuse to raise the debt ceiling without demanding massive spending cuts in return. Tell your members of Congress: you want a “clean raise” without devastating cuts.
The issue: With government funding expiring at the end of the month, Congress is under a tight deadline to keep the lights on somehow. They could also pass a “continuing resolution,” which puts funding levels on auto-pilot in order to avoid a government shutdown. But whether Congress does the bare minimum and passes a CR, or finishes work on some or all of the funding bills moving through the House, we have to make sure that either is done without damaging “policy riders”—strings attached that advance the Republicans’ policy agenda by riding along to must-pass funding bills.
The ask: Your MoCs should support a government funding bill that is a “clean CR”—that means it’s a continuing resolution without poison pill riders or funding for Trump’s senseless border wall.
The Issue: The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which covers 9 million low and middle income kids, runs out of federal funding on September 30th. (Seriously, not even kids are safe under Trump.) CHIP is a generally bipartisan program that's played an important role for 20 years in ensuring children grow up healthy. Yet Congress has neglected to renew its funding despite widespread support, causing uncertainty for families and state policymakers right as the school year starts.
The Ask: Congress must refund CHIP for five years, as recommended by the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, as soon as possible and without any policy riders. Republicans must not use CHIP as a bargaining tool, holding health care for children hostage for their own priorities, and they must not make policy changes to the program that reduce eligibility or access to care.
The issue: After saying he’d show “great heart” for the 800,000 DREAMers who arrived in the U.S. as children and received relief from deportation under an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Donald Trump may soon decide to fulfill the dreams of white supremacists instead: his administration is expected to make an announcement about—and potentially end—the DACA program on September 5th. This means that 800,000 American lives could become fresh fodder for Trump’s deportation machine.
The ask: There are DACAmented youth in every state, represented by the same members of Congress as everyone else. Congress has a responsibility to shield the 800,000 DACA grantees who are now at risk. Tell your MoCs to oppose Trump's possible ending of the DACA program and also co-sponsor the “DREAM Act” (S.1615 / H.R.3440) to give DACA recipients and others who arrived in the United States as children a path to permanent lawful status and eventual citizenship.
The issue: Trump has nominated Sam Clovis to be Chief Scientist at the Department of Agriculture. The Chief Scientist is responsible for overseeing programs that affect farmers, rural communities, and health and nutrition, and is required by law to have “specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” But Sam Clovis is not a scientist—he’s a former conservative talk radio host, who traffics in birther conspiracy theories and has spewed anti-LGBT views on his blog. He is (1) a racist, at a time when we need fewer racists in the Trump Administration, not more, and (2) totally unqualified for the job.
The ask: Tell your Senators to oppose the Sam Clovis nomination because he doesn’t meet the qualifications of the job and because bigotry has no place in the highest ranks of the Department of Agriculture or anywhere else in government. If you live in Minnesota, Indiana, West Virginia, or North Dakota, it is especially important that you call Senator Klobuchar, Donnelly, Manchin, or Heitkamp, respectively. These are Democrats that should be standing in opposition with us, but have not yet publicly opposed him.
The issue: What Republicans are calling “tax reform” is not tax reform at all—it’s the Trump tax scam, AKA tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations paid for by taking away Medicaid, Medicare, and other basic services. Republicans will attempt to sell their tax plan in the vaguest possible terms. They know most people don’t know the ins and outs of the tax code and they think using vague terms like “tax cuts” will make people support their plan. Or—just as bad—that people won’t fight back against it. We can’t let that happen.
The ask: Tell your MoCs: not one penny in tax cuts for the rich and corporations. Since Congress first has to pass a budget resolution to pass the Trump tax scam, your MoCs should oppose any budget resolution that has reconciliation instructions to jam tax cuts through the Senate that are paid for with cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, or other critical spending.
The issue: After the collapse of ACA repeal in July, Congress returns without clear direction of their next steps on health care. One highlight is the apparent return of regular order in the Senate, where the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is holding four bipartisan hearings the weeks of September 4th and 11th. A group of governors has come out with a mixed-bag proposal for stabilizing the health insurance marketplace. Senators Graham and Cassidy are trying to create momentum for their disastrous repeal bill. And the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that Republicans only have until September 30 to use their FY17 reconciliation bill to repeal ACA, which could mean a renewed push from some members to beat the clock.
The Ask: Tell your MoC that you support attempts, like the Senate HELP hearings, to improve health care through regular order and bipartisan cooperation. Check to see if your governor or insurance commissioner is testifying at those hearings, and track the coverage to see if your Senator is helpful or hurtful to progress. Ultimately, work to ensure that your MoC opposes any bill that hurts quality or access to health care, including an 11th hour push to resuscitate TrumpCare.