Three Issues Congress Must Grapple With in Lame Duck Session

The final act of the 115th Congress is under way. Lots of new faces will come to Capitol Hill in January, but right now the post-election, “lame duck” session has a number of pending issues and imminent deadlines. Three major items with broad impacts on planning and communities remain to be addressed in 2018:

  • Funding for key federal agencies
  • The Farm Bill
  • The future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Appropriations

Congress must complete work on outstanding funding bills prior to a December 7 deadline. Although Congress completed work prior to the election on most annual federal appropriations, work stalled on a spending deal covering the seven remaining bills, including funding in the Transportation Housing and Urban Development (THUD) and Interior-Environment bill.

The main sticking point to a final agreement on the outstanding FY 2019 bills remains a dispute over funding for President Trump’s proposed border wall. The administration has called for $5 billion for the project while congressional negotiators had proposed $1.6 billion during bipartisan negotiations over funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

Funding agreements are largely in place for the other pending agency bills, but everything has been held up by the disagreement over border funding.

GOP leaders in the House and Senate have stated that they do not foresee a government shutdown coming, but remarks from the White House have been less reassuring on that point. If an agreement isn’t reached, Congress could also punt final funding decisions into 2019 and the next Congress.

Long-term continuing resolutions create challenges for getting program funding out to communities, so APA is encouraging Congress to complete work on these key bills.

Final spending decisions for key programs like Community Development Block Grants, HOME, and transit grants are still pending. Funding levels for FY 2019 are also likely to set a foundation for the coming budget debate in the new Congress. The next appropriations cycle will be complicated by a range of factors, including the need to negotiate a new spending baseline with control of the House and Senate split by the two parties.

Farm Bill

Congress left for the campaign trail without completing work on a new Farm Bill. The House and Senate each passed differing versions of the legislation, and a conference committee was working to hammer out a compromise. The current legislation expired in October.

The main differences between the two chambers are stricter work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients and changes to conservation programs. However, there are also important differences in support for urban agriculture, farmers market and healthy food access programs, local food systems planning, and rural development. The Senate-passed version included stronger support for a range of these key planning priorities.

The Farm Bill may also be a vehicle to address another looming deadline: the National Flood Insurance Program. NFIP has been extended multiple times as Congress has struggled to reach agreement on a full reauthorization. The program will again expire on November 30.

A provision in the Senate version of the Farm Bill would extend it, without changes, into 2019. If the Farm Bill doesn’t move, legislators will likely use a final appropriations bill or continuing resolution to extend NFIP. Separate legislation has been introduced to move the deadline for action to May 2019. Regardless of the final path for an extension, renewal of NFIP will be an important agenda item waiting for the 116th Congress come January.

The coming shift in control of the House may make House Republicans more willing to compromise on some of the outstanding issues. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Tex.) sent a new proposal to Senate leaders late last week. Hopes are high that a deal can be struck. If agreement proves elusive, Congress would likely pass an extension and start work on a new package next year.

Land and Water Conservation Fund

Authorization for the primary federal source of park funding, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, lapsed at the end of September. Despite missing the deadline for renewing the program, Congress has been showing signs of momentum toward a solution.

Before leaving town prior to the election, House and Senate committees gave broad, bipartisan approval to legislation that would permanently reauthorize LWCF. However, the bills did not see final action before the election.

Action on LWCF could also be a chance to address the need to ensure greater support for state and local park needs. Established more than 50 years ago, LWCF provides critical funding for cities and improves park access for all.

Advocates are pressing Congress to take on LWCF reauthorization during the lame duck session. It is possible that LWCF could be among the issues that hitches a ride on a final spending agreement.

Advocacy

With such a full agenda and only a few weeks to wrap up work, the lame duck session provides an important opportunity for advocacy. APA will be bringing to Capitol Hill a series of straightforward messages about what Congress can do to improve communities.

  • First, finish work on FY19 appropriations and support robust funding for key planning programs, including CDBG, HOME, BUILD/TIGER, transit grants, water infrastructure, and hazard mitigation.
  • Second, support healthy communities and vibrant rural economies by passing the Senate version of the Farm Bill.
  • Third, pass a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and ensure greater equity for state and local park funding. It’s a big list, but also presents a chance for the 115th Congress to wrap up business by supporting healthy and prosperous communities that expand opportunities for all.

Take Action

Join APA’s Planners’ Advocacy Network of engaged planning advocates working to shape federal and state policy outcomes, then register for an exclusive November 29 network webinar that will dive deep into these issues and how you can voice your support.

Top image: U.S. Capitol building on a rainy night. Getty Images photo.


About the Author
Jason Jordan is APA's director of policy.

November 20, 2018

By Jason Jordan