House Republicans successfully managed to kick the can down the road (if only for two weeks) when they managed to pass a two-week extension last week of the continuing resolution that had been funding the government since September.
But after overcoming obstacles created by Democrats and conservative Republicans – with each camp pushing for priorities that were ultimately excluded from the extension bill – the White House and its allies in Congress will still need to figure out how to balance these demands if they want to successfully secure approval for the next funding bill by Dec. 22, the day the current extender bill requires.
Adding to the pressure on Congressional leaders, Republicans also need to work through what’s looking to be a difficult reconciliation process for the tax bill that President Donald Trump has vowed to pass before the end of the year.
With only four legislative sessions left on the official calendar (Congressional leaders reserve the right to delay the beginning of recess, something they will almost certainly need to do) the Hill has provided a quick rundown of five key issues that could possibly derail the spending bill – and finally usher in the shutdown that Trump believes could benefit the White House politically at the expense of Democrats, who are vying to take back the House and/or the Senate during next year’s midterm elections.
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And the issues are…
Trump announced earlier this year that he was ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants work permits to undocumented young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.
Congress has just a few months left to save the program or come up with a new solution, with DACA recipients set to lose their status beginning in early March.
Many Democrats and even some Republicans like Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) have demanded that any spending legislation that stretches into 2018 shield so-called Dreamers from deportation.
They view the must-pass spending bills as their best shot at getting a DACA solution over the finish line.
“We will not leave here without a DACA fix,” Pelosi vowed Thursday.
But conservatives have put their foot down on the issue, saying that attaching any DACA deal to a continuing resolution would be a non-starter with the Republican conference.
GOP leaders in both chambers have made clear that they oppose linking DACA to government spending bills, setting up a potential showdown at the end of the month.
Republicans have in the past had to rely on Pelosi and the Democrats to pass stopgap funding bills, though the House passed the two-week spending bill this week without Democrats. However, Democratic support will still be needed in the Senate.
“A DACA solution will be a standalone solution,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Thursday. “If DACA gets attached to the spending bill, there will be major, major pushback.”
It’s all but certain that Congress will need to pass another continuing resolution (CR) on Dec. 22 in order to buy more time to write a massive, omnibus spending package.
But defense hawks and conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus worry that yet another short-term spending bill would be harmful for the military.
They are insisting that leadership boost money for the Pentagon before the end of the year – and have threatened to vote against another CR this year if that doesn’t happen.
One option being considered would be to move a legislative package that funds defense at higher levels through September alongside a short-term patch to fund the rest of the government at current levels through January.
It’s unclear whether Democrats would be willing to go along with the idea. Their support would be crucial in the Senate, where at least eight Democratic votes are needed to overcome a filibuster.
Democrats have traditionally insisted that any increase in defense spending above budget caps be paired with an increase in spending on domestic programs.
But House Republicans could just jam the Senate with the defense-first package and dare vulnerable Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) to vote against a bill fully funding the military, especially with the escalating nuclear threat from North Korea hanging over their heads.
“Then they can go home and explain why they can’t fund the American military when the House did,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), an Appropriations cardinal.
Further complicating spending talks is the commitment that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to help win her vote for the GOP tax reform bill.
McConnell pledged to support passage of two bipartisan ObamaCare fixes before the end of the year, which could be attached to a government funding bill.
But House conservatives say they oppose the measures seen as simply propping up ObamaCare.
To lock up the necessary Republican votes for the two-week CR this week, House GOP leadership promised that the next spending bill would not contain funding for ObamaCare cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, according to Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.).
“The three things that we’ve been told are not going to happen as part of our agreement: no CSRs, no DACA, no debt limit,” said Walker, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to provide more supplemental funding for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, as well as for western areas devastated by wildfires.
The thinking is that disaster aid could be attached to the next CR, but members are still debating the price tag, according to Walker.
The White House last month requested another $44 billion in disaster aid, which would be the third infusion of cash to help with relief and recovery efforts.
But the funding request has been under fire from lawmakers who say it doesn’t go far enough to address the damage from the string of natural disasters.
And the White House has insisted that the latest disaster package be offset with cuts to non-defense federal programs, which could be problematic for Democrats.
Children’s health-care and the opioid crisis:
Democrats are also fighting for two health care priorities that could have bipartisan support: the renewal of a popular children’s health program and more money to combat the opioid crisis.
Many members are pushing to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which expired in September.
Republicans have said the issue could be attached to the next CR in an effort to sweeten the pot and attract more Democratic votes for the stopgap bill.
Democrats have also indicated that they want additional funding to fight the deadly opioid crisis in a larger spending deal.
Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency this year, but he stopped short of declaring it a national emergency — a designation that would have allocated new federal money toward the crisis.
It’s unclear, however, if additional dollars will come in a spending package.
“We’ve done a lot, put a lot of resources into combating opioids already,” the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, Sen. John Thune (S.D.), said earlier this month. “If they’ve got a proposal, I’m sure we would take a look at it, but I don’t know that that’s at least on the agenda at the moment.”
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As the Trump administration continues to get its legislative bearings after Trump’s hectic first year in office (a year in which he accomplished many of the priorities that he set out during the campaign, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, rolling back financial regulation and defanging some of the EPA’s most stifling regulations), the president has wasted no time setting out his next major priority: The $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan to help rebuild America’s crumbling roads and bridges.
The Wall Street Journal revealed still more details of the plan, which helped flatten the yield curve last week after Trump revealed that he intends to push ahead on one of his most crucial, yet long-delayed, promises.
While some in Congress might balk at still more deficit-expanding spending, polls show that a majority of Americans – even those who loathe the president – support this aspect of his agenda.
Recent polling showed that 52% of voters who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 back an infrastructure program, according to the survey. Some 53% of white male respondents in states won by Clinton support an infrastructure initiative, as well as 51% of voters who say they disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president.
All of which begs the question: Will this be the issue that finally forces red-state Democrats to break with the “Chuck and Nancy” enforced plan for mass obstruction and throw their support behind the president’s agenda?
After all, their political futures may depend on it.