Once upon a time, Washington was quiet during the period between Thanksgiving and the New Year holidays. Not this year! Congress is scrambling to conference and pass two controversial tax bills, a deal to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and negotiating a continuing resolution to prevent a government-wide shut down at the end of this week. There is no guarantee that any of these will succeed.

Tax Cut Legislation
Early on December 2, 2017, the Senate voted (51-49) to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1). Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) was the only Republican to vote against the bill. (See section-by-section summary, summary of amendments and the Joint Committee on Taxation’s estimated revenue table)

The House voted 222-192 yesterday to go to conference after the House Freedom Caucus threatened to derail a key tax vote on Monday in an attempt to win more influence over the spending strategy. A similar Senate vote could come later this week and is expected to pass.

House conferees include: Conference Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX), Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD). For provisions in the Senate bill outside the Ways & Means Committee’s jurisdiction, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) from Natural Resources and Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) from Energy and Commerce.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), chaired by Autism Society’s Vice President of Public Policy Kim Musheno, released a statement following the Senate vote urging Congress to reject H.R. 1 and to work on bipartisan solutions that will address our nation’s priorities without harming people with disabilities.

As CCD has already pointed out, both bills present serious threats to people with disabilities because they:

· Dramatically reduce tax revenues to provide tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the more prosperous and corporations.
· Build pressure to cut Medicaid, Medicare, Supplemental Security Income, and other critical programs for people with disabilities to make up for lost revenue stemming from the tax cuts.

In addition, the Senate bill repeals the Affordable Care Act individual mandate. This action will result in 13 million fewer people with health insurance and premium hikes of ten percent in the insurance marketplace, according to the Congressional Budget Office. PAYGO provisions could also lead to dramatic cuts to vocational rehabilitation, social services programs, and housing supports.

FY 2018 Appropriations

Congress must pass a continuing resolution (CR) by this Friday, December 8 to prevent a government shutdown. Over the weekend a bill was introduced in the House to extend the deadline of the current CR by two weeks just before Christmas. However, the conservative wing of the House Republicans demanded the deadline go past Christmas to at least December 30 almost preventing a procedural motion on the tax bill from moving forward. Congressional leaders are expected to meet with President Trump this Thursday to discuss a solution to the stand-off.

Another sticking point to finalizing the appropriations the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations that began on October 1 is the spending caps that are in place. Individual spending bills that have been passed by various appropriations subcommittees would significantly breach spending caps on discretionary programs. If Congressional leaders do not come to an agreement on a deal to lift these caps, across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, could be triggered.

Children’s Health

The CR also includes temporary aid for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to prevent states from dropping millions of low-income children from health care coverage.

In addition Congressional negotiators are making progress towards a bipartisan deal to reauthorize children’s health insurance program, according to The Hill.

Higher Education Act Reauthorization

On December 1, Representatives Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and Brett Guthrie (R-KY), chairman of the Higher Education and Workforce Development subcommittee, introduced H.R. 4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act.

The Autism Society is still reviewing the bill for its impact on students with disabilities. ASA staff will review how the bill lines up with the principles and recommendations provided by the CCD Education Task Force. On November 22, the Task Force sent a letter to Chairwoman Foxx urging the committee to include provisions to expand access to higher education opportunities for individuals with disabilities, including those with intellectual disabilities.

The task force further recommends including provisions of H.R. 3199, the “Improving Access to Higher Education Act” and the Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act (S.1295 & H.R. 2782) in a comprehensive reauthorization of the HEA. These are bills that are already introduced that would improve opportunities for students with disabilities. The Autism Society will continue to monitor the process of bills to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

Hearing on Research

On December 7, the Senate HELP committee will hold a hearing entitled, Implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act: Progress and the Path Forward for Medical Innovation. Witnesses include Dr. Francis Collins (Director, National Institutes of Health) and Dr. Scott Gottlieb (Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration).

Disproportionality Regulations

The Autism Society recently signed onto to two letters directed to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos: one developed by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Education Task Force and the other written by the Leadership Consortium of Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR). Both letters express strong support for the implementation and enforcement of the disproportionality regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The impetus for writing the letters of support was a leaked draft Federal Register notice on October 26 seeking comment on whether to delay the compliance date for the 2016 regulation until July 1, 2020 (and postpone data collection regarding the rights of the youngest children until 2022).The draft notice suggests that the Department may be considering delaying or amending this important rule.

The “disproportionality” regulations implement a key provision of the IDEA meant to address the misidentification and disproportionate over-representation of students on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender. The disproportionality provisions were added to the IDEA because data showed that some specific groups of students with disabilities were negatively impacted by inequitable practices in the identification, placement, and discipline of students under IDEA. Some are over, under and misidentified in special education on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender, while others are deprived of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) due to disproportionate discipline and placement practices.

In February of 2013, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study showing widespread noncompliance by states with the disproportionality rule. Most states set thresholds for identifying disproportionate districts so high that no districts ever exceeded them, and, therefore, none were identified. Meanwhile, states permitted districts to suspend students of color with disabilities at much higher levels than their white peers. Nationally, for example, in 2011, districts suspended over one in every four black students with disabilities, at least once. Rates of disciplinary removal for their disabled white peers were far lower. The GAO recommended the Department of Education develop a standard approach for defining significant disproportionality to be used by all states. After collecting hundreds of comments, the Department of Education published a final rule in the Federal Register on December 19, 2016.

CCD is the largest coalition of national disability organizations and the CCD Education Task Force advocates for Federal public policy that ensures the self- determination, independence, empowerment, integration, and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States.