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Members of Congress rushed home this week, many hitting the campaign trail with only a few weeks before the November 6th midterm elections. All 435 House seats and 35 Senate seats are up for grabs, and voters will be paying attention: NBC News reports that that over 25 million people have registered to vote for the first time or have used a registration form to update. The most recent national polling results consistently put Democrats ahead of Republicans by 2-11 points. Pollster Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, on the other hand, calls the election “pretty up in the air.”
What isn’t up for debate is Congress’ summer track record, having passed five of the twelve appropriations bills and avoiding a September funding deadline. The five bills account for 75% of all government discretionary spending. Agencies funded include DoD, HHS, Energy, Labor and the Department of Education.
The “minibus” that was passed in September included $71.5 billion for the Department of Education, a $581 increase from the fiscal year 2018. Notably, Title IV, Part A, known as the Student Support and Academic Achievement grants was funded at total $1.17 billion, which represents a $70 million increase. Congress also increased the maximum Pell Grant award by $100, up to $6,195. Funding for charter schools was increased by $40 million to a total of $440 million.
Regardless of the winners and losers, both chambers will return for the “lame duck” session on November 13 to wrestle with the remaining appropriations bills. Congress has until December 7 when funding dries up to figure out a plan.
Of the remaining seven appropriations bills, the House and Senate are resolving differences with a package of four bills that include Agriculture, Interior and HUD. The other three appropriations bills have been approved by their respective House and Senate committees, but have not received a floor vote in either chamber.
One of those bills, which funds the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), will most likely include funding for President Trump’s wall across the southern US border. However, the debate was explicitly tabled until after the midterms because of the potentially explosive blowback that many moderate Republicans would face from voters. Republican leaders on the Hill had convinced the President to avoid a showdown with Democrats over the border wall funding in September; however, we expect this to the be a major news item during the lame duck session this winter as the December 7th funding deadline looms.