Federal Spotlight: Congress Returns from Recess with Much on Its Plate

January 4, 2018

Congress is beginning to return from recess. The Senate began its 2018 session on Wednesday, and the House goes into session next Monday. Several critical items will have to be tackled in the New Year, which could prove more difficult to complete because it’s an election year.

The top items Congress must address within the next few months include:

  • Congress is facing a government shutdown on January 19 if they don’t pass a long-term spending bill or a continuing resolution. This will require bipartisan support to pass, and with neither side craving a shutdown, expect a short-term agreement to be reached.
  • Long-term renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is something members on both sides of the aisle want to accomplish. The program expired last September, but Congress set aside $3 billion in the stopgap measure it passed in December for the program to stay afloat for a few more months.
  • The House passed an $81 billion disaster relief package in December for areas hit hard by hurricanes and fires, but the proposal stalled in the Senate. Some Democrats feel Puerto Rico and other island communities ravaged by hurricanes last year weren’t sufficiently funded in the House package. The disaster relief bill will require 60 votes to avert a filibuster in the Senate, so expect compromises from both sides for progress to occur on this issue.
  • Immigration reform and DACA are issues that go hand-in-hand. President Trump announced last year that he would end DACA protections for approximately 800,000 who fall under this category. The program is set to expire in March. A bipartisan working group has been put together to try and come up with some deal. Many Republicans have said they would support some kind of immigration reform/DACA protections, but they want more funding for border security in a deal. Many conservatives in the House, though, see any kind of reform as amnesty. Expect this issue to be in the headlines for months to come.
  • Codifying Affordable Care Act subsidies has been a priority of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate. President Trump cut off these payments to insurance companies that help prop up the ACA marketplace. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has an agreement with Republican leadership that she would vote for the tax reform bill if leadership would bring a bipartisan bill to the floor to continue those payments. Senate passage of this bill won’t be easy and it’d be even more difficult to pass in the House, where there is even less of an appetite to vote on a bill like this.
  • The debt ceiling will also likely need to be raised sometime during the first part of the year. There is no set date right now, but as the time approaches Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will be front and center on this issue. Historically, this hasn’t been a hard issue for Congress to deal with. However, in more recent times, it has been extremely difficult to get the ceiling raised.