Congress Returns To A Long January To-Do List As Deadlines Loom

Bill Clark/CQPHO

Congress left D.C. for the December holidays without finding long-term solutions to any of the issues hanging over their heads—from immigration to children’s health insurance, the debt ceiling, or the government’s budget. After passing a deep (and permanent) corporate tax cut, they voted to kick the can down the road on the rest of their to-do list, setting up a serious January crunch.

Here are all of the things Congress must address in the coming weeks:

Countdown to shutdown

The government is set to run out of funding on Jan. 19, giving Congress just a few short weeks to put together a long-term budget or yet another short-term continuing resolution. With their eyes on the midterm elections in November, lawmakers are unlikely to attempt anything politically risky or ambitious later this year, so expect a host of issues to be tacked onto the must-pass spending bill.

The DACA clock is ticking

President Trump announced last year that he will terminate President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in March, meaning hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children will lose their temporary protections and be at risk of deportation. For months, immigrant rights activists and their allies in Congress have been agitating for a solution that would protect so-called DREAMers. Both were angry that the issue was put on the back-burner by Democratic and Republican leaders alike and that nothing was passed by the end of 2017. While Republicans have said they would like to wait until closer to the March deadline to take action, Democrats point to the tens of thousands of immigrants whose protections will expire before then, and are demanding a resolution this month, potentially attached to the Jan. 19 spending bill. But the disagreements that plagued—and sunk—last year’s negotiations remain, including demands from President Trump that any DACA protections be paired with funding for a new U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Road to recovery

Congress attempted to pass an $81 billion disaster relief package before heading home for the holidays, but the effort stalled out in the Senate. With millions of people in Puerto Rico literally powerless months after Hurricane Maria, wide swaths of California scorched by wildfires, and homeowners across Texas and Florida struggling to rebuild, the pressure is on Congress to act. But conservative groups are bringing pressure from the other side, warning lawmakers not to support the disaster aid without making cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

Government’s eyes and ears

FISA, the law allowing the National Security Agency to collect the e-mails and phone records of Americans who communicate with foreigners suspected of espionage or terrorism, will expire at the end of the month, after getting a short-term extension in December. Lawmakers and activists on the right and the left have demanded the program be reformed rather than simply reauthorized, citing concerns about the invasion of privacy and violation of U.S. citizens’ civil liberties.

Renominate expired nominees

In the final months of 2017, Republicans in Congress burned through a long list of nominees for judicial and agency seats, confirming a record number for the first year of a presidential administration. But a few key nominees were left hanging, and will have to be re-nominated before they can be confirmed. Among them is Alex Azar, who was tapped to lead the Department of Health and Human Services after former Secretary Tom Price resigned following the exposure of his predilection for private charter flights on the taxpayer’s dime.