Asking Congress to do the bare minimum to keep the government running seems like a lot these days, as once-routine votes have escalated into partisan brawls. But even amid the latest round of shutdown drama, a few funding bills have managed to squeak their way past the gridlock.
At the end of last week, the Senate unanimously decided to extend funding through 2016 for key child welfare programs and approved some reforms to the system — a bill that passed the House on an overwhelming 395 to 25 vote. Congress also passed a three-month extension of a major welfare program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, with so little controversy that both houses passed the bill without a formal roll call, through what’s called a “voice vote.”
That being said, there are changes under the legislation that don’t satisfy Democrats, some of whom only signed off grudgingly in the face of the looming Sept. 30 deadline. The TANF bill continues an unprecedented funding cut that could leave some of the poorest states with less money — a GOP proposal that I explained last week. Though Democrats didn’t go to the mat this time around to revive the extra funding, Dems from both chambers are more likely to do so come December, when the program will require yet another extension.
The child welfare bill generally preserves funding levels, while containing some changes to pave the way for state-level reforms to improve the welfare of children in foster care. The reform bill — the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act — was strongly bipartisan from its inception in both the House and Senate. But even Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tx.), one of its co-sponsors, told me the changes were “very modest improvements,” expressing his frustrations about the “stop-start” patchwork of support that’s the outcome of just incremental changes. “I take [the bill] as a good sign and an encouraging sign. But I’m not shocked either that it’s an incremental step,” says Rutledge Hudson, director of child welfare at the Center for Social Law and Policy.
On the whole, however, party leaders appear grateful that Congress has been able to carry out even relatively modest legislative accomplishments. They’re planning a signing ceremony for the child welfare reform bill once it reaches President Obama’s desk.