As Fox News and Bloomberg pointed out today, since returning from their holiday break last week, Congress has been bracing for a “political bomb cyclone” as a series of high-profile confrontations loom regarding the future of DACA protections and Republicans’ ability to keep the federal government operational.
According to Bloomberg, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are once again far apart on a government spending bill with less than two weeks to go before a partial shutdown. They also need to come to an agreement on an immigration package that will preserve protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children while also probably allocating some money to Trump's border wall. The continuing resolution passed shortly before holiday break expires on Jan. 19. And what’s worse for Republicans, Alabama Sen. Doug Jones has taken his seat, paring the GOP’s Senate majority to just one vote. Realistically, Republican and Democratic leaders need to hash out a solution this week, so they can bring the bills to the floor next week.
But these aren’t the only issues. Increasing spending for the Pentagon, reauthorizing (or killing) a controversial surveillance program, providing permanent provisions for a popular children’s health-insurance program, putting in place some stopgap to keep Obamacare from collapsing, disaster-relief funding and a two-year agreement to raise budget caps.
As always, the threat of a shutdown is ever-present, as Republicans defy Democrats to take a stand on DACA. Meanwhile, the question of whether Democrats will allow another continuing resolution to pass without first securing DACA protections remains an open one.
“If the Democrats want to shut down the government because they can’t get amnesty for illegal immigrants, then they’re going to have to defend those actions to the American people,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” program.
If both parties can agree this week on raising budget limits, Congress may be able to pass a short-term spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, said Muftiah McCartin, a former spending panel staff member for House Democrats and now at Covington & Burling LLP.
“If they don’t get a deal, will the Democrats allow another CR to go forward? I’d kind of be surprised,” McCartin said.
Trump has insisted that money to begin construction on his signature border wall be included in any bill authorizing DACA.
"We want the wall," Trump said Saturday at Camp David. "The wall is going to happen or we’re not going to have DACA."
Top congressional leaders from both political parties huddled last Wednesday in the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan, with White House budget Director Mick Mulvaney and White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short. Everyone spoke in positive terms following the conclave.
“All those talks, I think, are going well,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, "Nobody wants to shut the government down on either side. We’re in intense talks about trying to deal with all of these issues."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said in a joint statement following the hour-long session: "We had a positive and productive meeting, and all parties have agreed to continue discussing a path forward to quickly resolve all of the issues ahead of us."
As Fox points out, the biggest issue will be the battle over immigration policy, as Republicans push for the construction of a border wall and Democrats a fix for DACA. DACA is a President Barack Obama-era policy that granted some persons the right to remain in the US legally if they arrived as minors with parents.
The White House last week asked for $18 billion as the administration braces for the upcoming battle over US immigration policy. The money would be used to build 700 miles of new and replacement barrier along the southern border over the coming decade.
But funding isn’t the only issue that’s important to Trump. During a weekend summit with GOP Congressional leaders, Trump said he wants Congress to work out a solution to “chain” migration for family members entering the US while eliminating a diversity lottery system.
Of course, the battle over DACA was widely expected. Mitch McConnell said late last year that DACA would be a major legislative issue in the new year as Republicans engage in the latest installment of political brinksmanship over funding the federal government.
Trump reiterated his sympathy for the Dreamers, and told Fox “we all want DACA to happen.” But he added that “we also want great security for our country."
"We have a commitment on a bipartisan basis to address the DACA issue,” McConnell said. "We’ll devote floor time to that in January."
As of now, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said the plan is to keep the immigration package separate from the government spending bill.
Expect to hear more about where negotiations are heading after a mid-week meeting between Republican and Democratic leaders.