Congress faces tricky political week as shutdown fight looms

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Congress faces tricky political week as shutdown fight looms

With a temporary funding plan for Uncle Sam set to run out Friday night, there was no clear path forward as yet for Congress and the White House, as the President and Democrats remained on a collision course over efforts to secure a deal on spending levels for the 2018 federal budget, as well as an agreement on the status of certain illegal immigrants brought here as children, raising the possibility of a government shutdown at the end of the week.

After arriving back at the White House on Monday night, President Donald Trump re-tweeted four of his own Twitter posts from recent days, as he bluntly criticized Democrats in Congress over immigration and the budget.

“DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it,” the President said, as he charged that Democrats “just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military.”

Let’s take a look at some of legislative sore spots that might come up this week:

1. Budget caps and the military – When you hear about talks on a spending deal, this has to do with the regular budget that the Congress works on each year, covering the funding for government programs like the military, various government departments, the Congress and the Judiciary. President Trump has been calling for a $54 billion increase this year in money for defense – Democrats say they’ll back that if they also get an equal increase in non-defense programs, something GOP leaders don’t want to do. One overall problem with funding levels for this year is simple – until you figure out how much money the feds will spend in 2018, you can’t finish the spending bills for this year. It’s one reason why another short term budget might be needed.

2. Hurricane and wildfire disaster aid – Officials from Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been making noise for weeks that more aid is overdue to areas hit by major hurricanes in 2017. They also agree that the emergency aid offered up by the President has not been enough. That’s why the $44 billion plan proposed by the White House in December quickly grew into an $81 billion package – and why some lawmakers think it should be even larger. Is it possible that Congress approves that extra aid this week as one way to get a short term funding plan through the House and Senate? Stay tuned.

3. No deadline right now on DACA & Dreamers – The most important thing to remember about the back and forth over the DACA program is timing – it does not have to be solved this week. When President Trump moved to end the Obama Administration program, he set a six month deadline for the Congress to act. That runs out March 5. Democrats don’t want to wait for early March, and have tried to tie any deal on the Dreamers to a plan that funds the federal government – that’s why they want to do it now, at the January 19 shutdown deadline. It still seems like a long shot for the DACA/Dreamers matter to get done in the next three days, simply because the fight over it has so intensified since last Thursday, and immigration remains a very controversial topic.

4. Children’s health insurance – Back at the end of September, the legal authorization expired for a federal-state program which helps about 9 million children get health care coverage. When Congress approved a short term funding plan for the government in December, the House and Senate also kicked in some extra money for the CHIP program – now lawmakers have reached another point where funding is in question for some states, which might have to ratchet back on services if nothing is done this week on Capitol Hill. One recent study said 20 states might have to cut off CHIP coverage. It’s one more thing in the mix this week.

5. Who has more leverage? – This is an interesting argument in Washington, D.C. Democrats believe they have the edge on the DACA issue, especially if the President uses it as the basis for arguing that Democrats are to blame for any government shutdown. Many GOP lawmakers contend they will be sticking up for national defense and a strong border, not for illegal immigrants. My rule of thumb on fights between the Congress and the President usually boils down to one simple idea – never underestimate the power of the President, and his bully pulpit to drive home his arguments. Democrats though think the country will rise up in opposition if Dreamers start being deported en masse. President Trump has the veto pen – he can use it, if he wants to do that.

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Stay tuned. This could be a very interesting week in the halls of Congress.

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