Lawmakers prepare for end-of-year dash
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Lawmakers are preparing for an end-of-the-year dash as they return to Washington with little time to tackle a handful of policy fights.

Congress will be under pressure to wrap up work on a full plate of divisive issues after members return from a weeklong Thanksgiving recess.

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Both chambers are expected to be in session for approximately 15 days, giving them limited time to send legislation to President Obama’s desk or be forced to kick the can to January.

The looming battles — including avoiding a government shutdown — could challenge Republicans’ desire to show they can govern heading into the 2016 election, as well as provide a fresh challenges for new House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Ryan: Americans want to see Trump talking with Dem leaders Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Wis.).

Here’s a look at the biggest issues that lawmakers still need to tackle:

 

Highway bill

The first deadline lawmakers face is passing a long-term infrastructure bill after approving another short-term funding patch before leaving for Thanksgiving.

Lawmakers only have a matter of days to get a long-term deal and avoid a shutdown of federal highway funding, with the current patch set to expire on Friday, Dec. 4.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeA third of Congress hasn’t held a town hall — it’s time to take action Anonymous affiliate publishes claimed list of GOP private contact info Wasting America’s nuclear opportunity MORE (R-Okla.) initially expressed optimism that House and Senate bills could be reconciled “in a matter of hours,” and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) declared separately that the recently passed short-term measure would be the “last extension.”

But lawmakers have gotten bogged down in negotiations over how to reconcile differences in the two bills. They’re also facing pressure from conservative groups to drop language reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank’s charter and skepticism from Republican lawmakers over only guaranteeing three years of funding for a six-year bill.

Inhofe, however, remains optimistic that negotiators will be able to seal an agreement, telling The Oklahoman that lawmakers “are very close to a product that country has needed for far too long.”

 

Reconciliation

The Senate is heading for a battle over ObamaCare, as Senate Republicans gear up to use a parliamentary maneuver to repeal parts of the president’s signature healthcare law.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ky.) said that lawmakers would turn to the measure after Thanksgiving and fast track the House-passed bill to the Senate calendar, which will allow it to be brought up on the floor.

But the legislation is threatening to divide Republicans, raising questions over whether or not leadership will be able to get the 51 votes needed to move the proposal through the upper chamber.

Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration MORE (Fla.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (Texas), who are both running for the Republican presidential nomination, and Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Utah) have threatened to oppose any legislation that doesn’t fully repeal ObamaCare.

If the three oppose the legislation, McConnell would need the support of every other Republican senator to get the reconciliation bill passed.

But a push to link cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood to the repeal package has raised concerns from moderate Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Ryan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Collins skeptical of new ObamaCare repeal effort MORE (Maine) and blue-state lawmakers up for reelection in 2016, including Sens. Mark KirkMark KirkStale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Immigration critics find their champion in Trump Trump's nominee to lead USAID has the right philosophy on international aid MORE (R-Ill.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Collins skeptical of new ObamaCare repeal effort How Senate relationships could decide ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-Alaska).

“I do not think it’s fair nor good policy to completely defund Planned Parenthood. I called months ago for an investigation into the allegations about the improper sale of fetal tissue,” Collins said ahead of the Thanksgiving break. But Collins noted that she’s “looking at the whole bill. The Senate hasn’t filed its version of the bill.”

Senate Democrats previously blocked legislation that would have defunded Planned Parenthood and redirected the money to other women’s health providers. Kirk joined Democrats to vote against the legislation.

With the president opposed to any attempt to roll back ObamaCare, the Senate could spend its limited legislative days, including a potentially hourslong vote-a-rama on amendments, to move a bill the president is all but guaranteed to veto.

 

Syrian refugees

A fight over Syrian refugees is shifting to the Senate after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fast-tracked House-passed legislation that halts the president's resettlement plan.

While the legislation passed the House with a veto-proof majority — including the support of 47 Democrats — it could face a tougher path in the upper chamber, where Democratic leadership has united against it.

Referring to the House legislation, Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThe Memo: Trump pulls off a stone-cold stunner The Memo: Ending DACA a risky move for Trump Manchin pressed from both sides in reelection fight MORE (D-Nev.) told reporters that the upper chamber wouldn’t be “dealing with it over here” and that “it won’t get passed.”

Rank-and-file Democrats are also remaining noncommittal on the House legislation, which would require the administration to certify that Syrian and Iraqi refugees aren’t a security threat.

If every Republican supports the legislation, McConnell would need at least six Democrats to break rank and help the proposal get over a procedural hurdle.

But he’s also facing pushback from within his own party, with Sens. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsRhode Island announces plan to pay DACA renewal fee for every 'Dreamer' in state Mich. Senate candidate opts for House run instead NAACP sues Trump for ending DACA MORE (R-Ala.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCorker pressed as reelection challenges mount -trillion debt puts US fiscal house on very shaky ground Senate votes down Paul's bid to revoke war authorizations MORE (R-Ariz.) both suggesting they are on the fence.

"We'll see. I've not supported a pause or a moratorium, and I think we ought to focus more on where the real problems are," Flake said, asked if he would support the House bill on a cloture vote. "Like I said, my preference would be to focus on the areas of higher potential problems, so I would rather focus on visa waiver."

Democrats, meanwhile, are focused on the Visa Waiver Program, which allows residents of nearly 40 countries to enter the United States without a visa. They’re also doubling down on legislation that would close the “terrorist background check” loophole, which allows suspected or known terrorists to buy a firearm or explosive.

Thirty-six Democrats, as well as Independent Sens. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight MORE (Vt.) and Angus KingAngus Stanley KingSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Washington dysfunction is damaging national security Booker signs on to Sanders's 'Medicare-for-all' bill MORE (Maine), sent a letter over the Thanksgiving recess to Republican leadership demanding that they bring the legislation up for a vote.

 

Government funding

The debate over Syrian refugees is also emerging as the latest potential policy hurdle in the effort to get legislation funding the government passed by mid-December.

In an early sign of trouble, a push by Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Lawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program MORE (R-Ky.), who is running for president, to get a vote on blocking benefits for new refugees derailed a bill funding the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

With Paul threatening to block any attempt to allow the legislation to come up for a procedural vote, Collins said the transportation housing bill will likely need to be folded into a broader omnibus spending bill.

Conservative Republicans are also pushing to tie the blocking of refugee resettlement funding to the larger spending legislation.

In the House, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) has dozens of backers in his effort to bar relocation funding. Meanwhile, Sessions is asking his colleagues to include a provision blocking funding until Congress votes on and approves a plan from the Obama administration.

A rider on Syrian refugees isn’t the only hurdle facing the funding bill. Lawmakers are also gearing up to battle over a slate of policy issues including financial regulations, the environment and the Affordable Care Act.

Rubio is hoping to deliver a blow to ObamaCare, asking lawmakers to use the spending legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s “risk corridor” provisions, meant to help protect insurance companies against unforeseen expenses.

“If the only way ObamaCare can continue is for taxpayers to bail out health insurers that lose money because of it, that’s as good an indication as any that the whole law should be repealed and replaced,” the Florida Republican wrote in a letter to the Appropriations Committee.