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Legislative Affairs

September 1, 2023

WSW Special Report: Expiring Authorizations, “Must Do” Legislation Highlight the September Legislative Calendar

As Congress prepares to return to action in September, it faces a lengthy and varied legislative to-do list. The gears of Congress have been grinding away throughout 2023, working to reauthorize a host of laws that expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30. At the same time, appropriators have been working to advance the annual spending bills which fund the federal government before the start of Fiscal Year 2024 on October 1; absent action on those bills or on an interim funding bill, Congress may also be facing the prospect of a federal government shutdown.

To get a better understanding of how this works and what Congress has on its legislative agenda in September, we have assembled the following primer.

Authorization legislation: An authorization bill is passed by Congress to establish the structure of a federal department or agency and its programs or activities, along with recommended funding levels. Often, these authorizations are set to expire (or sunset) after a set period of time, with many measures requiring renewal within five years. In this case, Congress must pass legislation to reauthorize a given program, at which time Congress has the opportunity to change, reform, or update various federal government activities and keep federal programs current with the needs they were intended to address.

When an authorization is set to expire, it provides the deadline and impetus for Congressional action. If Congress can’t agree on a full-scale reauthorization of a given program, it often will extend the current authorization for a period of time. However, such extensions do not typically allow for new programs to begin or old ones to cease, or for changes in the way federal departments and agencies operate.

Appropriation legislation: This type of legislation permits agencies to take payments from the federal Treasury. Appropriations bills are ordinarily passed each year, with the federal fiscal year formally ending on September 30. However, in recent years, it has been common for Congress to fund the government through a continuing resolution (CR), which allows agencies to continue spending the same amount of money they were spending under the previous funding bill, for at least some period of time until there is agreement by Congress on a funding level for a department or agency for the full fiscal year.

In general, an authorization is required under House and Senate rules, and sometimes under statute, for Congress to appropriate funding for a particular program or activity.  However, unlike when an authorization lapses, if appropriations are not made for a particular activity before the end of a fiscal year, even on a temporary basis under a CR, that department or agency shuts down or ceases to administer a particular program.

The stakes for programs being reauthorized are getting higher, however, as in the 118th Congress, House Republicans have made a priority of programs being authorized to be eligible for continued investment in the annual appropriations bills. Without authorization, related programs could be more vulnerable to cuts in the future as the House and Senate write the annual spending bills.

Key Authorizations Expiring by September 30 Driving the Agenda: Many important programs are set to sunset on September 30th. Here is a selection of those measures that Congress is working to reauthorize before that deadline, and some of the key issues involved in those efforts:

  • FAA Reauthorization.
    • Key issues: Training hours for pilots, self-defense training for flight attendants, and the allocation of additional flight slots at Reagan National Airport.
  • The SUPPORT Act, which is the current framework for the federal response to the opioid epidemic.
    • Key issues:  New ways to respond to and reduce the proliferation of fentanyl, extension of state plan authority for relief from the Medicaid IMD Exclusion, and addressing the growing threat of xylazine.
  • The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), the nation’s main pandemic preparedness law.
    • Key issues: Giving the HHS-Assistant Secretary for Planning and Response new powers in the next public health emergency, including contracting authorities that the Department of Defense facilitated for Operation Warp Speed, and surge staffing capacity, as well as provisions that would address medical equipment and medical countermeasures supply chain resilience, potential new authorities for review and approval of diagnostic tests, and more.
  • The Children’s Hospitals Graduate Medical Education program, which funds training for pediatricians.
    • Key issues: Fights over gender appropriate care and attempts to prohibit federal funding from being used at facilities receiving GME funding for such care for people under age 18.
  • National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
    • Key issues: Protecting policyholders in areas at risk for flooding from outsize premium increases by capping annual increases at nine percent, increasing funding for mitigation grants and modernization of flood maps, and reforms to the claims process in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
  • Farm Bill
    • Key issues: Implementation of new work requirements for beneficiaries, limitations on the growth of benefits, rural development including broadband access expansion, Chinese ownership of US farmland.

Beyond these measures, Congress also is racing to advance the annual appropriations bills or otherwise agree on a Continuing Resolution before September 30. House and Senate leaders intend to bring some of the spending bills to the floor in their respective chambers in September, which could make incremental progress, but Congress is all but certain to need additional time in the fall.

While agreement on a Continuing Resolution of at least a month or two is typically non-controversial, there are some members of the House Freedom Caucus who have indicated they won’t support a CR unless additional spending and policy concessions are made beyond those agreed to in May to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default. Once again, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy will be walking a highwire attempting to balance the priorities of competing factions within the Republican Conference, or the risks of cooperating with House Democrats, while also seeking to avoid the drama and blame of a government shutdown.

Ultimately, the imperative of securing aid in response to natural disasters such as Hurricane Idalia and the wildfires in Hawaii may prove instrumental to securing the bipartisan support required to pass a CR.

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