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Analysis of Domestic Policy Priorities in the Recent Budget Deal

February 13, 2018

After struggling for months to agree upon a budget outline, in the early morning hours of February 9, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. While there were some major disappointments in that budget deal, namely the huge increases to defense spending and the failure to address Dreamers, there were also some notable wins, particularly for a few key domestic policy priorities.

Here is a list of some of what was included on the domestic spending side of that budget agreement. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018:

  • Increases non-defense spending by $63 billion for fiscal year 2018 and $68 billion for fiscal year 2019. That is $26 billion above the spending cap established in the 2011 Budget Control Act. This is the first time since 2010 that we’re seeing a sizeable increase in non-defense spending. Up to now, we have simply been trying to prevent cuts. The additional funding still doesn’t bring up non-defense spending to 2010 levels, and there’s significant work to be done to ensure Congress puts those additional dollars into key priorities, such as low-income housing assistance, nutrition assistance, job training, environmental protection, and reentry programming. The deal does make a few specific delineations of where some funding will go, including (over two years):

    • $5.8 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which will enable the parents of 230,000 more kids to receive child care assistance. Currently, the Child Care and Development Block Grant serves only one out of every six children who are eligible;
    • $6 billion for opioid and mental health treatment services, prevention programs, and law enforcement efforts;
    • $4 billion for college affordability;
    • $20 billion for infrastructure, including money for safe drinking water; and
    • $182 million for the Census. The 2020 Census will have major implications for distribution of federal funding and resources, identifying local and national need, and political representation. People of color, immigrants, low-income households, young children, and vulnerable populations are historically undercounted. It is especially important the Census Bureau receive increased funding this year to ensure are reliable Census count.
  • Provides nearly $90 billion in desperately needed disaster relief for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, Florida, and California. This funding will help the hundreds of thousands of people still left without power or water in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The disaster relief package includes:

    • With Puerto Rico without any more funds for Medicaid, the package provides nearly $5 billion in Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, ensuring people aren’t left without access to health care;
    • $28 billion in Community Development Block Grant Disaster-Recovery ($2 billion to repair Puerto Rico’s power grid and $12 billion for disaster mitigation efforts);
    • Funding for infrastructure;
    • Assistance to Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) clinics in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that help provide nutrition assistance to young, low-income children and new moms; and
    • $2.7 billion to rebuild schools and help kids displaced by disasters.
  • Reauthorizes important health programs, many of which were about to expire or run out of funding:

    • Reauthorizes the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDIP) with $150 million of funding each year for the next two years. American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest prevalence of diabetes amongst all U.S. racial and ethnic groups. SDPI has reduced the high prevalence, seeing as much as a 54% decline in End-Stage Renal Disease (ERSD) due to diabetes between 1996 and 2013. SDPI funding was about to expire in March, but the budget deal provides $150 million for SDPI each year for the next two years.
    • Reauthorizes the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for ten years. The last budget extension, enacted in January, extended CHIP for 6 years. CHIP provides quality, affordable coverage to 9 million children and pregnant women in working families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to purchase private health insurance. This budget deal extended the program for an additional four years, funding the program for the next decade.
    • Reauthorizes Community Health Centers for two years. Community Health Centers fill a critical need among underserved, rural, and immigrant communities, many of whom don’t otherwise have access to basic health care services. One in ten children in the U.S. uses Community Health Centers for health services.
    • Extends the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program for five years. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, this program helps “improve maternal and newborn health, child development, school readiness, and family economic self-sufficiency and reduce child abuse and neglect, crime and domestic violence.”
  • Includes a number of important environmental provisions:

    • Extensions of several renewable energy tax credits, including extensions for residential solar water heaters, geothermal, fuel cell, fiber optic, small wind, micro-turbines, combined heat and power, and energy efficiency. Many of these tax credits were originally part of Rep. Tom Reed’s H.R. 1090, Technologies for Energy Security Act of 2017, legislation that was co-sponsored by many members of the Climate Solutions Caucus.
    • According to E&E News, “the budget deal provides some agencies, including NOAA and the Army Corps of Engineers, with money to study weather patterns and to plan and prepare for the consequences of disasters caused or accelerated by climate change.”
    • A notice determining how HUD’s budget allocation for post-Hurricane Harvey funding should be spent requires grantees to describe how they plan to promote "sound, sustainable long-term recovery" planning that is informed by an evaluation of future risk due to "sea level rise, if applicable." The notice includes language similar to President Obama’s Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, which President Trump repealed earlier this fall.
  • Raises the debt limit to March 1, 2019, avoiding the risk that the U.S. might default on its obligations. Such a default would be catastrophic for the global economy.

There were concerning provisions included in the legislation as well. The budget deal repeals the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). The Affordable Care Act established the IPAB to help lower Medicare costs and drive down health care costs.

Some people are talking about the deficit implications of this budget deal. It’s true that the additional $300 billion is largely unpaid for, and periods of economic expansion are times when the country should try and rein in deficits and debt. Yet this two-year increase pales in comparison to the $1.5 trillion tax bill Congress passed at the end of the year.

In addition to the enormous increases in Pentagon spending, the failure to address the future of young immigrant children in the U.S. remains a tragedy. It’s unclear whether voting down this budget deal or shutting down the government would have produced any better results for the Dreamers left in limbo. Still, Congress must act with utmost urgency and provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers without sacrificing other pathways of legal immigration. This country should keep families together, ensure accountable border policies, and protect people desperately seeking asylum and refuge.