Happy New Year and welcome to what promises to be a jam-packed January as lawmakers look to hammer out a budget deal to avoid a government shutdown by the 19th while also dealing with a long list of other polarizing issues left unresolved in 2017. The Senate returns Wednesday. The House returns next Monday.
Among the hot-button issues that need to be addressed:
- A spending deal that’s likely to increase the budget by about $200 billion over two years. Republicans have offered to raise defense spending by $54 billion and non-defense spending by $37 billion in fiscal 2018 and 2019. Democrats want equal increases to both sides of the budget.
- A pair of bipartisan Obamacare stabilization measures opposed by House conservatives.
- Fix the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect “Dreamers” from deportation, which President Trump is linking to funding for a border wall.
- Provide long-term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
- Provide emergency disaster relief funding for those affected by the wildfires in California and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
- Reauthorize the section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows the government to obtain the communications of foreign intelligence targets without getting individualized warrants.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Legislative Director Marc Short are scheduled to meet with congressional leaders from both parties on Wednesday. “There is some optimism among congressional aides that they will strike a deal to resolve some of the most acute issues -- especially spending and immigration,” Bloomberg reports.
Congress will also have to deal with the debt ceiling again by sometime in March — and, of course, November’s midterm election looms large over every decision, vote and showdown. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election hangs over everything as well. Conflict, both between the parties and within them, is all but guaranteed.
“People are not going to come back singing the Sound of Music together. January is going to be contentious,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told Bloomberg on Friday.
With or without singing, the Hill will definitely be alive, though.
What Can Congress Get Done in 2018?
Coming off their year-end overhaul of the tax code, Republicans are also split on what to prioritize as they look to make the most of their unified control of government. Infrastructure, welfare reform and trade are all on the menu.
President Trump has brought up infrastructure, and the White House is reportedly working on a roughly 70-page proposal to be released this month as a blueprint for legislation. But House Speaker Paul Ryan has pressed for cuts to spending on anti-poverty programs and said recently that “it’s the perfect time to do welfare reform.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, told Axios he “would not expect to see” entitlement reform come up in the Senate, given the narrow 51-49 majority Republicans hold there.
Republicans do still have the option of using budget reconciliation for fiscal 2019 to push through legislation without Democratic support.
Whatever policy agenda Republicans settle on, with midterm elections coming up and plenty of talk about a possible wave election already swirling, how much will lawmakers be able to accomplish as both parties also look to woo voters?
“West Wing aides, who worked furiously to push through legislation and executive actions during Trump’s first year in office, expect limited prospects for getting things done in Washington this year,” Politico reports. “And with a diminished margin in the Senate — after Roy Moore’s loss in Alabama, Republicans now hold just a 51-seat majority — White House aides and Republicans in Congress say they have little hope that much if any meaningful legislation will reach the president’s desk before the midterms.”
The White House agenda for 2018 is still the subject of “fierce debate” between Trump aides and outside advisors, Eliana Johnson, Annie Karni and Andrew Restuccia write, with some advisors pressing the president to prioritize bipartisan deals on DACA and infrastructure legislation as a way to win over more voters.
Trump is set to meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at Camp David this weekend and will summit with congressional Republicans at the end of the month. “The House and Senate Republicans will (in theory) have to get on the same page this month if there is hope for actual legislation,” strategist Chris Krueger of the Cowen Washington Research Group wrote to clients Tuesday.