Temperatures may be dropping across the country, but things are heating up in Congress:
Last Friday, after considering a series of last-minute amendments, the Senate passed a budget reconciliation package by a vote of 52-47 that would repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act—including the Prevention and Public Health Fund—and defund Planned Parenthood for one year. The bill will return briefly to the House for a final vote of approval (likely sometime this week) then head to the President’s desk where he will be waiting with his veto pen.
Congress has made little progress on a federal spending plan, due Friday, as negotiations have been diverted to a wide range of non-budgetary issues (known as policy riders). Using the spending bill as a vehicle, lawmakers are considering how to handle Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and a series of tax breaks that are set to expire at the end of the year, among many other issues. With Republicans and Democrats adamant to avoid a government shutdown, Congress is likely to resort to another short-term funding extension while negotiations on the longer-term spending bill continue.
Last week, Congress overcame a decade-long pattern of short-term transportation funding extensions and patches to pass the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, a five-year, $305 billion agreement to increase state highway and local transportation funding beginning next year. Despite falling short of the transportation funding levels proposed by the President earlier this year, the bill has subsequently been signed into law. The perpetual challenge of federal transportation funding – not addressed by this bill – is that it is financed in large part by a federal gas tax that has remained fixed since 1993, while the fuel efficiency of cars has improved markedly over the same time period.