March Madness: Congressional Style

Much like the excitement of strategically filling out brackets and watching college basketball teams progress in the March Madness NCAA tournament, legislative action on the hill was a head-spinning sport to observe in March. For those of us with children, families, and communities at the top of our brackets, March proved to be a nail biter until the very end for funding and for valuable programs such as Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Highlights include Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) historically joining forces to sponsor a bill repealing “doc fix” legislation. The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed this bipartisan bill permanently blocking perennial cuts in physicians' Medicare fees and extending important health programs, such as MIECHV and CHIP. However, it did not always appear that it would be a slam dunk.

Earlier in March, Reps. Charles Boustany (R-La.) and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) offered their own bill to support a MIECHV extension for six months and with no attached funding. This was a reactionary measure to protect the well-loved MIECHV program in the case it was not attached to Boehner and Pelosi’s bill. Many of the program’s supporters worried that a two- to four-year extension of MIECHV would be more likely to be dropped from Boehner and Pelosi’s bill—a legitimate concern since a separate bill addressing MIECHV could justify representatives from not attaching it to the new doc fix legislation. In that case, having the Boustany/Reichert bill as the only alternative would not have been a clear win for MIECHV.

Child advocacy groups successfully ran tireless campaigns to ensure that the House would keep both MIECHV and CHIP attached to the bipartisan bill. The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization was sent to the U.S. Senate in hopes of a quick vote before the congressional break March 28. Unfortunately, we will have to wait until April for final congressional approval by the Senate, with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying his chamber will handle it "very quickly when we get back." Advocates should continue to reach out to the Senate for the hasty passage of this bill.

Children and Family programs did not fare as well on the funding side. Both the House and the Senate passed, by near party-line votes, 2016 budget blueprints that would either cut or not fund important amendments for working families. However, there were some wins in the Senate round.

Senate Budget Winners

  • Middle-class tax relief, including extending and expanding refundable tax credits, such as tax provisions and policies included in legislation like the Working Families Tax Relief Act, American Opportunity Tax Credit Permanence and Consolidation Act, Helping Working Families Afford Child Care Act, or the 21st Century Worker Tax Cut Act, among other legislation
  • Legislation that would both revise or repeal sequester and Budget Control Act spending caps, but only if the sequester relief is evenly split between defense and nondefense
  • Paid Sick Leave; passed at a filibuster proof level

Senate Budget Losers

  • Minimum wage increase failed
  • Preschool expansion for middle- and low-income families failed
  • $1.2 trillion cut from Medicaid

As March Madness continues into April, we will be watching the Senate vote on MEICHV and the likely introduction of a bipartisan bill to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. We will continue the full-court press for policies that support youth and families.

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