Path to funding deal remains in doubt

Republicans and Democrats in Congress face the same laundry list of issues that divided them before the holiday recess, and it remains to be seen whether a compromise is in the offing.

Shutterstock image. Copyright Mikhail Kolesnikov.
 

The gears are grinding in public and in private toward a deal that would fund the federal government for fiscal year 2018, but it's far from clear that an agreement will be reached by the time the current continuing resolution expires on Jan. 19.

The government has been running on continuing resolutions, with spending frozen at fiscal year 2017 levels since Oct. 1. Republicans hold majorities in both houses of Congress, but Democratic votes are needed to pass funding bills in the Senate, giving the minority party leverage in budget negotiations.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters on Jan. 9 that it is "likely" another stopgap funding bill will be needed while the parties iron out a deal that includes among other things, a deal on lifting budget caps to fund both military and civilian programs without triggering sequestration, a legislative fix for young immigrants protected under an Obama-era executive order, the Children's Health Insurance Program, funding for disaster aid and more.

This is the same laundry list of issues that challenged lawmakers before the holiday break, and it's not clear what progress has been made.

In a Jan. 11 press conference, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), leader of the House Democrats, said she thought a deal was "doable," but she cautioned that moves in the Trump administration to expand immigration policy discussions in an effort to reach a comprehensive policy deal weren't helping. She also dismissed a House immigration bill offered by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) as a "non-starter."

A more expansive deal on immigration appeared to be on the table in an unusual White House meeting on Jan. 9 convened by President Donald Trump that featured a policy discussion that was televised by the press pool for 55 minutes and produced an 11,000 word transcript.

"You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform," Trump told the group.

In that conversation, Trump appeared to back away from demanding a border wall spanning the entire U.S.-Mexico frontier, but Democrats remain largely opposed to the wall.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he opposed a plan floated by the Department of Homeland Security to spend $18 billion over 10 years on a border wall.

"President Trump has said he may need a good government shutdown to get his wall. With this demand, he seems to be heading in that direction," Durbin declared in an emailed statement on Jan. 5.

In Jan. 11 remarks on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for keeping immigration talks on a narrow path.

"But the whole reason we narrowed the scope of our negotiations is so that we could accomplish something for the "Dreamers," rather than relitigating comprehensive immigration reform in such a compressed time frame," Schumer said.

Schumer indicated he wasn't open to passing an appropriations bill before the Jan. 19 deadline while deferring votes on immigration issues until later.

"If we can reach an agreement by the end of this week or over the weekend, we can pass it into law as part of a global deal on the budget by next Friday," Schumer said. "I believe that is still the best way to resolve the issue, and I’m hopeful, hopeful, hopeful that we can get this done."

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