Five Issues to Watch in Congress


Five Issues to Watch in Congress

Blog Post

By No Labels
12/28/2017

Five Issues to Watch in Congress

When Congress left for the winter break, fresh from passing a mammoth tax bill, there was much still to be done.

That means January will be a busy month for lawmakers, who have must-pass legislation including a spending bill — which has a Jan. 19 deadline – along with bills dealing with immigration and children’s health insurance. All will happen with November’s election looming.

As lawmakers resume their work next week, here is some legislation worth watching.

A Budget Agreement by Jan. 19

Congress passed a stopgap measure earlier this month to keep the government funded through Jan. 19. If lawmakers don’t reach a budget agreement, the government will shut down on Jan. 20, costing roughly $1 billion a day. In passing a short-term solution, lawmakers punted some major issues into January. They will have to reach an agreement on defense and domestic spending, while also dealing with issues like disaster relief, immigration and health care. Unlike tax reform, which passed with only Republican support, many of these issues will require Democratic votes. Some heated debates are ahead.

Disaster Relief is a Big Priority

Congress may consider an $81 billion disaster aid package to help Texas, California, Florida and Puerto Rico, which were hit hard by hurricanes and wildfires. The measure stalled this month after Republicans required spending cuts to offset the cost and Democrats criticized the aid as insufficient. But it may be taken up again in January, perhaps as part of the negotiations over the spending bill.

An Immigration Bill By March

Congress has so far failed to enact legal protections for Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. President Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that prevented deportations, calling on Congress to solve the problem by March 5. While most Republican and Democratic lawmakers want to address the issue, Congress has so far failed to coalesce around a solution. Some Democrats say they missed an opportunity for leverage in the stopgap spending bill. What comes next is unclear, but one scenario is a bill that includes the Dreamer protections that Democrats want and border security measures supported by Republicans.

Children’s Health Insurance By March

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, which helps deliver care to almost 9 million children nationwide, enjoys bipartisan support. But it has been subsisting on stopgap measures until Congress passes a long-term reauthorization. Some states worry that the program will stall for lack of funding, and have warned CHIP families that they may need to seek out alternative insurance options. Data shows that a majority of states will run out of CHIP funding by March unless Congress acts. Lawmakers are expected to fund the program, perhaps as part of the spending bill.

The Affordable Care Act Needs Action

In the debate over the tax bill, Republican leaders promised some lawmakers that problems with the Affordable Care Act would be addressed. Included in that promise was passage of the Alexander-Murray bill, which would fund a key insurance subsidy program and give the states more flexibility in how they deal with ACA mandates. The goal is a bipartisan package that staves off premium increases for consumers. The bill may have enough support among Republicans and Democrats to pass in the Senate, but there will likely be objections in the House with Speaker Paul Ryan having previously suggested he would not support legislation modeled on Alexander-Murray. Because this issue was kicked into January, and it could be part of the spending negotiations, the bill’s fate is uncertain.

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