Congressional Republicans rejoiced as they left town in December having passed a sweeping tax reform bill, but they face a series of major problems as they return this month.
Among other things, lawmakers must pass a spending package to keep the government open, reauthorize a children’s health insurance program and decide what to do about undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
Most of those priorities will require Republicans to work more closely with Democrats, something that didn’t happen much in 2017, and the Senate GOP will have an even slimmer majority when Democratic Sen.-elect Doug Jones is sworn in Wednesday.
By Jan. 19, lawmakers must pass a spending package simply to keep the government operating — a rote task in different times, but today a protracted display of partisan animosity with no guarantee of success. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides 9 million children across the U.S. with healthcare, is rapidly running out of money and demands reauthorization. And as an Obama-era program to protect 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children winds down, Democrats are pushing hard for a replacement.
All of these are problems of Congress’ own making.
The new fiscal year began back in October, but rather than promptly agreeing on a comprehensive year-long spending package, lawmakers have simply kept punting the issue ahead a couple of weeks at a time by passing temporary spending bills known as continuing resolutions. The most recent, passed on Dec. 22, lasts less than a month. CHIP’s authorization expired back in September; without congressional action, 16 states will run out of funding for the program by the end of January. And Congress has long put off figuring out what to do about undocumented immigrants brought as children.
The most urgent fight is preventing a shutdown. Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress will meet with top White House officials on Wednesday to discuss the tasks at hand — namely coming to an agreement on the contentious issue of how government funding should be allocated. Democrats are insisting that all defense spending be matched equally with funding for non-defense programs, such as Medicare, education and transportation. (Currently, the Department of Defense gets about 53% of all federal discretionary funding.) Members of both parties are calling for the budget solution to be long-term: Republican defense hawks argue that temporary funding…