Politics & Government

Five threats to Christmas cheer at the Capitol

The Capitol is seen at dawn as Senate Republicans work to pass their sweeping tax bill this week.
The Capitol is seen at dawn as Senate Republicans work to pass their sweeping tax bill this week. AP

Get ready for the usual end-of-year congressional chaos -- a week full of shutdown threats and impasses on the day’s big issues. And the usual ending: A spending bill passes and everyone’s home in time for the holidays.

There’s a partial government shutdown looming if Congress doesn’t pass spending legislation by Friday. That doesn’t leave a lot of time, especially with Republicans also determined to deliver tax cuts to President Donald Trump’s desk by Christmas.

Cut through the rhetoric, though, and the betting is that lawmakers will do what they’ve been doing for decades: Punt the big spending issues into next year.

House Republicans have rolled out a plan that would fund the military for a full year and keep the rest of the government running until Jan. 19. That defense-rich bill is all but dead on arrival in the Senate, where Republicans need at least eight Democrats to pass a spending bill.

So many fights are on tap this week.

Democrats vs. Republicans. “We look forward to working with them in a bipartisan way,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of Republicans. “But what they are doing right now won't fly.”

Conservative Republicans vs. pragmatic Republicans. “I’m pessimistic on the receptivity we’ll get in the Senate with what we pass out of here,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who chairs the influential House Freedom Caucus, a group of hardcore conservatives.

But look behind the tough talk, and Meadows offers a more sober assessment. If the Senate returns a spending bill that provides for negotiations in January, “I think most of my members will support that."

Here’s some of the stumbling blocks:

DEFENSE: The House plan would boost defense spending and fully fund the Pentagon until Sept. 30, 2018, a “top priority especially in these uncertain times of instability around the globe,” said House Appropriations chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J. The move is popular with House defense hawks, but Democrats say it all but ignores the need to boost domestic spending.

In a letter to Republican congressional leaders, 44 Senate Democrats vowed to oppose a spending plan that increases military spending but not domestic spending.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., derided the plan as a “sop to some militant, hard right people who don’t want the government to spend money on almost anything. And it is a perilous waste of time as the clock ticks closer and closer and closer to the end of the year.”

President Donald Trump told a crowd in Warsaw, Poland on Thursday that Europe no longer faces the threat of communism but that the West is now battling new "dire threats." Trump said that the United States and its European allies have suffered fre

DISASTER RELIEF: Republican lawmakers from Florida and Texas are threatening to vote against the measure because as of late in the week it failed to include the billions of dollars they want for relief from the hurricanes that hammered the states in August and September.

“I’m worried about (my district),” said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., who represents a citrus-rich area of the state.

“So are a lot of other delegates from Florida. If we can be part of it, great. If we can’t, then they’re going to have to find the votes from somewhere else.”

DACA: At least two House Republicans and many Democrats have vowed to not support the short term funding bill because it’s unlikely to include a deal to help undocumented young adults who came to the U.S. as young children.

Many were protected from deportation under a President Barack Obama executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. President Donald Trump has pledged to end DACA while giving Congress until March to keep the program by passing a law.

Democratic leadership has been less insistent on ensuring a fix by the end of the year even as rank-and-file Democrats believe they will lose leverage if the fix isn’t reached in a budget deal, where Republicans have traditionally relied on Democratic votes.

“Experience tells me that when we get to issues of immigration that there’s a tendency to push stuff to the back because of the political volatility,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Az., a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Donald Trump's decision to eliminate DACA has generated a lot of uncertainty among some of South Florida's immigrant community.

CHIP: The House bill includes five years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which expired at the end of September.

Democrats oppose the source of funding: Money from a public health fund created by the Affordable Care Act.

“It requires families to pay for their own health insurance,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who argued that it was “unrealistic to ask Democrats to vote for a bill that doesn’t include our priorities.”

Democrat Doug Jones won election for the U.S. Senate from Alabama, defeating Republican Roy Moore on Tuesday. Jones is an attorney and former prosecutor.

HEALTH CARE: Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a key vote for Republicans on the tax bill they hope to pass before the end of the year, reached a deal with Senate leadership — and Vice President Mike Pence — to vote for the tax measure, which repeals the Obamacare individual mandate, in exchange for two health care fixes she wants passed before the end of the year.

Collins said she’s received assurances that the measures that would be included in the spending package, telling reporters, “It has to be done before the end of the year under the agreement” with leadership.

The two provisions to stabilize the insurance markets include one co-sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and another backed by Collins and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

House conservatives oppose the measures. They consider them a bailout for the insurance industry and were not included in the House spending plan. Meadows suggested the provisions could be considered in the January package, but Collins said she has a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the measures would be passed before the end of the year.

McConnell told Collins on the Senate floor earlier this month that he’d support passage “ideally prior” to passing the tax bill and “certainly before the end of the year.”

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday to provide what he calls "Obamacare relief" for millions of Americans. He says the action people more competition, more choices and lower premiums. Trump said he still wants Congress repea

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

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