Congressional negotiators have avoided a government shutdown by reaching a compromise agreement on federal spending for the remainder of FY 2023. The Hill newspaper reported that lawmakers had “reached a bipartisan, bicameral framework that should allow them to finish an omnibus appropriations bill that can pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by the President.’”  We spoke to NCPSSM legislative director Dan Adcock about the spending deal and whether it impacts Social Security and Medicare.

Q: What basically happened here?

Adcock:  Republicans and Democrats were able to forestall a government shutdown that would have been triggered on Friday had they failed to agree on spending for the remainder of FY 2023.  Late yesterday the two parties arrived at a compromise agreement on appropriations for the rest of the fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2022. The result will be an “Omnibus” spending bill because it combines all congressional appropriations into a single piece of legislation.

Q:  Does this process affect Social Security and Medicare benefits?

Adcock:  Not directly. Social Security and Medicare are considered “mandatory spending,” and are funded according to the laws that created them. They are not part of the annual appropriations process.  What Congress is wrangling over now is called “discretionary spending,” which goes toward the day to day operation of the federal government. On the other hand, if there had been a government shutdown, Social Security Administration customer service could have been disrupted. 

Q:  What about funding for the Social Security Administration?

Adcock:  Funding for SSA is, indeed, part of the annual appropriations process. We have urged Congress to appropriate $14.8 billion for Fiscal Year 2023, which is the level that President Biden requested in his budget. SSA badly needs these funds in order to improve customer service after more than a decade of budget cuts – and to work through the huge backlog in disability claims that built up during the pandemic. 

Q:  The current process is different than the debt ceiling negotiations, right?

Adcock:  Yes. This week’s negotiations were about agreeing on appropriations to fund the daily operations of the government and avoid a shutdown. The debt ceiling issue is separate. Sometime during 2023 (most likely during the 3rd quarter), the federal government will have exhausted its ability to borrow money to meet its financial obligations — unless Congress raises or suspends the debt ceiling. Republicans, who will have a majority in the House in the 118th Congress, have threatened to use next year’s debt ceiling negotiations to extract cuts to Social Security and Medicare.  Democrats will have to stand firm in the face of GOP pressure and refuse to consider cuts to Americans’ earned benefits. 

Q:  Is the spending agreement a done deal?

Adcock:  The two parties have reached a tentative agreement on top-line numbers, but they still must determine the line item amounts for each federal agency and program in the actual spending bill. There’s also a lot of backroom work that goes into assembling a thousand-plus page bill like this.  The congressional leadership are incentivized to finish by the end of next week so that they can head home for the holidays.