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Big Decisions Await Congress           01/16 06:25

   Before a potential government shutdown at midnight Friday night, a host of 
leftover Washington business is bottled up in Congress, waiting on a deal to 
prevent the deportation of young immigrants brought to the country illegally as 
children and an agreement on other immigration-related issues, including 
President Donald Trump's long-sought U.S.-Mexico border wall.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Before a potential government shutdown at midnight Friday 
night, a host of leftover Washington business is bottled up in Congress, 
waiting on a deal to prevent the deportation of young immigrants brought to the 
country illegally as children and an agreement on other immigration-related 
issues, including President Donald Trump's long-sought U.S.-Mexico border wall.

   Lawmakers in both major parties are confronted with a consequential week 
that includes shutdown brinksmanship linked to politically freighted 
negotiations over immigration.

   Meanwhile, there are increasingly urgent deadlines for disaster aid and 
renewal of the popular Children's Health Insurance Program.

   A government-wide spending deal, billions of dollars in help for 
hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and health care financing for 
9 million children from low-income families have been on hold for weeks, caught 
first in a crossfire over taxes and now held up in a standoff on immigration.

   Lawmakers are angry that their pet priorities are stuck and are getting fed 
up. That rank-and-file anger has GOP leaders in a bind as they work to deliver 
a stopgap spending bill to stave off a shutdown. They are privately worried 
that if there's no breakthrough on immigration, they could blunder their way 
into a shutdown that all say they want to avoid.

   Here are the moving parts in Capitol Hill's high-wire week:

   ___

   IMMIGRATION

   Trump has dismissed a bipartisan deal by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and 
Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would pair protections for the young immigrants with 
border security money and other measures. Instead, Republicans are invested in 
a rival bipartisan group led by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of 
California.

   Four issues are the focus of the talks: protection for the young immigrants, 
limits on family migration for their parents, border security, and elimination 
of a diversity visa lottery system. But there are huge obstacles to a deal, 
considering intense political pressure from both the right and the left, 
Trump's erratic and impulsive behavior, months of hard feelings, and suspicion 
of bad faith harbored on both sides.

   On the other hand, pressure is intense for an agreement because, without 
one, much of the rest of Washington's agenda is on hold.

   ___

   STOPGAP SPENDING

   The government is financed through Friday, and another temporary spending 
bill is needed to prevent a partial government shutdown after that. In a 
shutdown, vital government services like law enforcement and air traffic 
control would continue, as would benefit programs like Social Security, 
Medicare and Medicaid. But national parks would close, and many federal 
bureaucrats would be sent home.

   No one says they want a government shutdown, though House Democrats --- 
whose votes may be needed for another stopgap spending bill --- opposed two 
stopgap spending bills last month. House GOP leaders overcame the obstacle then 
but aren't so sure they can produce the votes now.

   Democrats are demanding real progress on immigration to vote to stave off a 
shutdown. But what happens if the pressure is really cranked up isn't 
necessarily clear --- either for GOP holdouts or House Democrats. It's more 
than likely that if a stopgap bill passes the House, it would again glide 
through the Senate.

   ___

   BUDGET CAPS

   Both sides say they want a deal to increase spending caps that limit money 
for both the military and domestic programs. A 2015 budget agreement negotiated 
by then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has expired, bringing the return of 
stringent limits imposed by a 2011 fiscal deal.

   Talks to increase these caps have proceeded behind the scenes toward a 
two-year deal that could increase spending by more than $200 billion over that 
span when compared with the legal cap. An agreement could snap into place 
quickly once immigration is resolved, but GOP defense hawks are increasingly 
anxious. A caps agreement is a prerequisite for smooth completion of the more 
than $1.1 trillion budget for annual agency operations.

   ___

   DISASTER AID

   An $81 billion disaster aid bill that passed in the House has stalled in the 
Senate, where leaders have been hoping to add it to other legislation such as 
the broader budget agreement. Lawmakers from hurricane-slammed states such as 
Texas and Florida and the territory of Puerto Rico are increasingly anxious 
over the delays.

   ___

   CHILDREN'S HEALTH

   Because of the recently passed GOP tax bill, which eliminates the individual 
mandate to purchase health insurance in "Obamacare" in 2019, the Congressional 
Budget Office has found that it doesn't cost money to renew the Children's 
Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

   It pays for health care for 9 million children from low-income families, and 
authorization for it expired Oct. 1. States have been limping along on unused 
funds and prior short-term fixes. Several states are at risk of running out of 
CHIP money soon, and it's looking as though a multiyear extension of the 
program may be added to the stopgap funding bill.


(KA)

 
 
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