Five issues that could derail a spending deal

Five issues that could derail a spending deal
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Congress punted its funding fight for another two weeks, setting up a contentious spending showdown just days before Christmas. 

Lawmakers passed a stopgap bill on Thursday to avoid a shutdown and keep the government’s lights on through Dec. 22. But members acknowledge that the real budget brawl — and the threat of a shutdown — will come later this month.

The funding fight will likely center on two major issues. Democrats want protections for young immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, while the GOP wants a funding boost for defense.

But there are a host of other year-end funding priorities that both parties will also be scrambling to address before they leave town, in addition to negotiating a final tax bill that Republicans hope to send to President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: LeBron James's 'racist rants' are divisive, nasty North Carolina man accused of fraudulently obtaining .5M in PPP loans Biden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies MORE’s desk by Christmas.

Here are five sticky issues that are threatening to complicate year-end spending talks.


Trump announced earlier this year that he was ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants work permits to undocumented young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children. 

Congress has just a few months left to save the program or come up with a new solution, with DACA recipients set to lose their status beginning in early March.


Many Democrats and even some Republicans like Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloHouse Democrats call on Republicans to return Marjorie Taylor Greene donation Republicans race for distance from 'America First Caucus' Former GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' MORE (R-Fla.) have demanded that any spending legislation that stretches into 2018 shield so-called Dreamers from deportation. 

They view the must-pass spending bills as their best shot at getting a DACA solution over the finish line. 

“We will not leave here without a DACA fix,” Pelosi vowed Thursday. 

But conservatives have put their foot down on the issue, saying that attaching any DACA deal to a continuing resolution would be a non-starter with the Republican conference.

GOP leaders in both chambers have made clear that they oppose linking DACA to government spending bills, setting up a potential showdown at the end of the month.

Republicans have in the past had to rely on Pelosi and the Democrats to pass stopgap funding bills, though the House passed the two-week spending bill this week without Democrats. However, Democratic support will still be needed in the Senate.

“A DACA solution will be a standalone solution,” Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsBoehner finally calls it as he sees it Stephen Miller launching group to challenge Democrats' policies through lawsuits A year with the coronavirus: How we got here MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Thursday. “If DACA gets attached to the spending bill, there will be major, major pushback." 


It’s all but certain that Congress will need to pass another continuing resolution (CR) on Dec. 22 in order to buy more time to write a massive, omnibus spending package.

But defense hawks and conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus worry that yet another short-term spending bill would be harmful for the military.

They are insisting that leadership boost money for the Pentagon before the end of the year – and have threatened to vote against another CR this year if that doesn’t happen.

One option being considered would be to move a legislative package that funds defense at higher levels through September alongside a short-term patch to fund the rest of the government at current levels through January.

It’s unclear whether Democrats would be willing to go along with the idea. Their support would be crucial in the Senate, where at least eight Democratic votes are needed to overcome a filibuster. 

Democrats have traditionally insisted that any increase in defense spending above budget caps be paired with an increase in spending on domestic programs. 

“I would not support that,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats and sits on the Armed Services Committee, said of the defense-continuing resolution package.

But House Republicans could just jam the Senate with the defense-first package and dare vulnerable Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) to vote against a bill fully funding the military, especially with the escalating nuclear threat from North Korea hanging over their heads. 

“Then they can go home and explain why they can’t fund the American military when the House did,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), an Appropriations cardinal. 


Further complicating spending talks is the commitment that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTim Scott to deliver GOP response to Biden's speech to Congress GOP state attorneys general urge Biden, Congress not to expand Supreme Court The Memo: Washington's fake debate on 'bipartisanship' MORE (R-Ky.) gave to Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsHawley votes against anti-Asian hate crime bill Senate passes anti-Asian hate crimes bill Senate to vote next week on repealing Trump methane rule  MORE (R-Maine) to help win her vote for the GOP tax reform bill.

McConnell pledged to support passage of two bipartisan ObamaCare fixes before the end of the year, which could be attached to a government funding bill.

But House conservatives say they oppose the measures seen as simply propping up ObamaCare.

To lock up the necessary Republican votes for the two-week CR this week, House GOP leadership promised that the next spending bill would not contain funding for ObamaCare cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, according to Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.). 

“The three things that we’ve been told are not going to happen as part of our agreement: no CSRs, no DACA, no debt limit,” said Walker, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee

Disaster aid 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to provide more supplemental funding for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, as well as for western areas devastated by wildfires. 

The thinking is that disaster aid could be attached to the next CR, but members are still debating the price tag, according to Walker. 

The White House last month requested another $44 billion in disaster aid, which would be the third infusion of cash to help with relief and recovery efforts.

But the funding request has been under fire from lawmakers who say it doesn’t go far enough to address the damage from the string of natural disasters.

And the White House has insisted that the latest disaster package be offset with cuts to non-defense federal programs, which could be problematic for Democrats.

Other health care issues

Democrats are also fighting for two health care priorities that could have bipartisan support: the renewal of a popular children’s health program and more money to combat the opioid crisis. 

Many members are pushing to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which expired in September.

Republicans have said the issue could be attached to the next CR in an effort to sweeten the pot and attract more Democratic votes for the stopgap bill. 

Democrats have also indicated that they want additional funding to fight the deadly opioid crisis in a larger spending deal. 

Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency this year, but he stopped short of declaring it a national emergency — a designation that would have allocated new federal money toward the crisis.

It’s unclear, however, if additional dollars will come in a spending package.  

“We've done a lot, put a lot of resources into combating opioids already,” the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, Sen. John Thune (S.D.), said earlier this month. “If they've got a proposal, I'm sure we would take a look at it, but I don’t know that that's at least on the agenda at the moment.”