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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.