Congress is rushing to adjourn for Christmas, but it’s looking increasingly likely they are going to leave plenty of unfinished work.
More than $80 billion in disaster aid, long-term funding for a widely popular, low-cost health insurance program for 9 million children, and protection against deportation for young immigrants in the country illegally are being kicked to next year.
Facing a midnight Friday deadline, a government shutdown appears likely to be averted. Temporary fixes are in the works for several issues, including a short-term solution for children’s health care and a soon-to-expire surveillance program that gives the U.S. government authority to spy on the electronic communications of foreigners located outside the United States.
Here’s a rundown on Washington’s crunch of unfinished business:
Government funding. A shutdown at midnight Friday appears to be off the table, unless there is some genuine incompetence among congressional leaders. Instead, a temporary, government-wide funding bill would finance agencies through Jan. 19.
Private-sector VA care. A short-term fix for an expiring program that pays for veterans to seek care outside the Department of Veterans Affairs system appears likely. The VA Choice program arose from a 2014 scandal in which veterans were denied care.
Children’s health. With chances for a long-term extension of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program fading, efforts were underway for a patch to ensure states facing shortfalls won’t have to purge children from the program. It pays for health care for 9 million children from low-income families, and authorization for it expired on Oct. 1. States have been limping along on unused funds and a prior short-term fix, but the need for a long-term solution is becoming dire.
Foreign surveillance. A soon-to-expire foreign intelligence collection program appears likely to win a short-term extension. The surveillance program gives the U.S. government authority to spy on the electronic communications of foreigners located outside the United States, yielding intelligence that helps prevent terrorist plots, cyberattacks and other threats. Privacy advocates, including libertarian conservatives such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., say information from Americans communicating with these foreign targets is also being incidentally swept up and needs to be protected.
DELAYED UNTIL JANUARY
Budget deal. Both sides say they want a deal to scrap spending caps that limit money for both the military and domestic programs. Talks to increase these caps have proceeded behind the scenes, but no agreement has been reached. GOP defense hawks are becoming anxious, and negotiations will resume next year. A deal is a prerequisite for smooth completion of the more than $1.1 trillion budget for annual agency operations.
Immigration. A move by President Donald Trump to rescind an Obama-era executive order that protected immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children is threatening about 800,000. Many have known no other country except the U.S. Trump has given Congress until March to come up with a solution, but negotiations on the politically sensitive issue haven’t produced results yet. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., says he’s been promised a vote on it next month, and both sides want a solution, but the recent history of bipartisan efforts on immigrations isn’t encouraging.
Disaster aid. Lawmakers from hurricane-slammed states such as Texas and Florida and the territory of Puerto Rico are pressing for more than $80 billion for rebuilding efforts. But many Democrats consider that amount of funding insufficient for Puerto Rico, while conservatives in the House are blanching at the price tag. The disaster aid, which also includes money for states hard hit by wildfires, would advance separately from the stopgap spending bill, but it’s not clear it can pass the House until Democrats are on board. And even if it passes the House, the package is likely to stall in the Senate.
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