Lawmakers returning to Washington, face critical spending issues

Updated January 2, 2018 - 7:38 pm

WASHINGTON — Fresh off of tax-cut euphoria, President Donald Trump and Senate and House GOP leaders returned to the nation’s capital Tuesday to begin dealing with Democrats to address critical spending and budget issues to avoid a government shutdown.

The GOP passed a sweeping $1.5-trillion tax cut package before it dashed out of town for the holidays, but Republican leaders return with more difficult dealings with their colleagues ahead.

Trump will meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., at Camp David this weekend to hash out a legislative agenda with the backdrop of midterm elections that could shift the political landscape in Congress.

On Wednesday, McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as well as Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will meet with White House budget officials Mick Mulvaney and Marc Short.

The meetings will target the budget and spending caps that must be addressed to pass spending bills, including one for military spending that exceeds those caps.

“The president wants a two-year budget deal that provides realistic budget caps and provides certainty for our national security,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

“That’s our biggest and No. 1 priority, and that will be the focus front and center of the conversations that are taking place this week,” she said.

 


No time to waste

Meanwhile, lawmakers have little time to waste on budget negotiations.

A stop-gap spending bill passed by lawmakers in the waning days of last year expires Jan. 19. Without action, government agencies would shut down after the stop-gap bill, or continuing resolution, expires.

While the tax cut package was passed along mostly party lines, Democrats picked up a Senate seat in Alabama to trim the GOP majority in the Senate to 51-49.

Sen.-elect Doug Jones, D-Ala., will be officially sworn in on Wednesday, along with Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, a Democrat, who will replace Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who stepped down over allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct.

Bipartisan support will be needed for some of the challenges that face Congress, like budget caps, which were set in 2011 and must be raised to increase spending.

Democrats oppose domestic spending cuts to increase military spending. And, Democrats also want protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought into this country illegally as minors.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said in an interview before the congressional break, that Democrats should use the leverage they have to force a deal that provides protections for those who were brought here illegally through no fault of their own.

She cited those in Nevada who grew up, paid for college out of their own pockets, and go on to contribute to their communities. Cortez Masto also spoke of the fear in a Nevada school in Sparks where children stayed home because of a rumor of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid.

Trump has countered with protections in exchange for Democratic support of his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and other immigration restrictions.

Help for children

On top of that, states are clamoring for federal action on numerous spending issues that affect state budgets and programs.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, has led a bipartisan push to get Congress to act immediately on reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health care to 9 million nationwide. The program expired Sept. 30, but the stop-gap spending bill extended it until March.

Sandoval and national governors sent letters to congressional leaders at the end of last year urging a permanent solution for a program that provides health care, immunizations and other services for children in low-income families.

In Nevada, CHIP provides health care for roughly 69,000 children each year, according to the state.

The entire Nevada congressional delegation has backed Sandoval on his request.

The Senate has proposed a bill that would reauthorize the program and funding for five years, while in the House, Republicans have tied program cuts to reauthorization.

On top of the pending budget issues, Congress must still address disasters that crippled states in 2017.

The House passed a $81 billion disaster assistance bill to give relief to flood-ravaged Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and provide help to Western states like California, which have been hard-hit by wildfires.

But the Senate failed to take up the disaster bill last year. It is eyeing an even larger price tag to address concerns raised by Texas.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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