Five fights facing Congress in 2018
Lawmakers will face several divisive fights in January as they return to Washington.
Leadership from both parties are poised to meet with top White House aides on Wednesday to discuss the spate of looming deadlines and unresolved issues kicked over from December.
Meanwhile, Republicans — feeling increasingly anxious about the midterms — are eager to put wins on the board as they try to show they can govern.
If Congress can finish off fights related to unfinished business from last year, a series of different challenges await.
Here’s a look at some of the big fights.
Government funding and budget caps
Congress has a matter of weeks to reach a deal to avoid automatic cuts known as sequestration.
A White House spokesperson said congressional leadership would meet with Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget chief, as well as Marc Short, the director of legislative affairs, to discuss the caps and other legislation.
Leadership and the White House have been negotiating for more than a month but have so far failed to lock in an agreement.
The White House said in December that they had a “tentative” deal on defense spending and were working toward an agreement on nondefense, but that has yet to crystallize.
Democrats are demanding parity, meaning any increase in money for the military would have to be matched by an equal increase for the rest of the government.
In addition to the budget caps, lawmakers need to prevent another government shutdown by Jan. 19, after passing a stopgap bill before Christmas that continued funding until that date.
Lawmakers are expected to pass another short-term bill to give appropriators more time to craft an omnibus, which would fund the government through September.
Congress will also need to vote in early 2018 to increase the debt ceiling.
The Treasury Department is expected to run out of borrowing options by March.
The deadline will likely spark another fight, with conservatives poised to demand spending cuts that will likely be rejected by Democrats.
Congress is returning to a looming fight over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, after kicking the issue into 2018.
A bipartisan group of senators have been locked in negotiations as they try to hash out an agreement, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pledging to give the bill a vote if they can reach a deal in January.
But key issues remain, including if current DACA recipients would be offered a path to citizenship, what border security measures would be attached to an agreement and if the administration will insist on any controversial provisions including funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Trump, who has been a wild card in the immigration debate, tweeted on Friday that a DACA deal can’t be reached “without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration.”
The issue is expected to come up during Wednesday’s White House meeting, with Democrats under pressure to demand an immigration agreement as part of any deal to keep the government open past mid-January.
But any deal could draw backlash from House conservatives.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) promised in 2015 that he would not bring up any immigration bill that lacked support from a majority of Republicans, meaning any DACA-border security deal is sure to face a tough path in the House.
Ryan, fresh off the tax bill win, is turning his focus to tackling a key item on his wish list: Entitlement and welfare reform.
“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said in a recent interview.
Ryan is pitching the changes as key to tackling the debt and deficit — a top concern for House conservatives who have bristled as the GOP-controlled Congress has increased the debt ceiling and funded the government without corresponding spending cuts.
A White House official also pointed to welfare reform as a priority for the administration in 2018.
But those ambitions are running into a political buzz saw in the Senate, where using reconciliation to wrangle together 50 Republican senators would likely pose a herculean lift for leadership.
And Republicans could be loath to touch Medicare and Social Security — both political lightning rods — as the 2018 midterms approach. The president’s party historically loses seats in the first midterm election after a presidential race.
McConnell appeared to shoot down the idea of dedicating floor time in the Senate to entitlement reform unless it could get bipartisan support.
“It requires a bipartisan, sincere agreement to tackle it. And those pieces would have to be in place, I think, for it to be successful,” he said.
Republicans are split over whether or not to try again to make good on one their top years-long campaign promises: repealing ObamaCare.
GOP leadership appears ready to move on after failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act during high-profile fights in July and September.
McConnell noted while he would “like” to repeal ObamaCare, the Senate needs a bill that can get the 50 votes needed to let Vice President Pence break a tie.
“The only observation I made … is, 51-49 is a pretty — is a pretty tight majority,” he told reporters.
But conservatives and their allies off Capitol Hill, as well as a band of Senate Republicans led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), are gearing up for another repeal push heading into the 2018 midterm election.
After McConnell appeared to close the door on repealing ObamaCare, Graham fired back that anyone — “including Senate Republican leadership” — who believed the fight was over “are sadly mistaken.”
Graham and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) had previously threatened to vote against a budget unless it included instructions for repealing the health-care law.
The Trump administration is expected to roll out its infrastructure plan in early January as it tries to make headway on an issue that broadly has bipartisan support.
“The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly,” Trump tweeted after a train derailment in Washington state.
A senior administration official added separately that the White House would be unveiling an “infrastructure package,” which is expected to be used as a blueprint for legislation on Capitol Hill.
GOP lawmakers have pointed to the legislation as one area where they can rack up a win with bipartisan support in 2018.
But there are already hurdles to getting an agreement, even though lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that upgrades need to be made to the country’s roads and bridges.
Though moderate senators have appeared open to an infrastructure plan, McConnell will need the support of at least nine Democratic senators to get a bill through the Senate — presuming that he can hold his own caucus together.
But Democrats have balked over the administration’s previous infrastructure suggestions, including giving credits to the private sector and trying to incentivize cities and states to raise their own revenues to help pay for the infrastructure plan.
Lawmakers could also struggle to settle on a deal for how to pay for the infrastructure plan, with fiscal conservatives wary of agreeing to massive federal spending.