Congress returns with what The Washington Post calls a "jam-packed to-do list" including finalizing the current short-term fiscal year 2018 budget before the continuing resolution expires, a potential deal to lift the budget caps, legislation to stabilize the health insurance markets, emergency relief for natural disasters, the DREAM Act, and more.

In addition, the negotiations are moving along—as Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) puts it, “much like the movie Groundhog Day.” In other words, another continuing resolution could be on the horizon, leaving many programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)and the Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV) undetermined.

In late December, Congress passed a stopgap spending bill to avert a pre-holiday government shutdown. The continuing resolution (H.R. 1370) keeps the government running through Jan. 19, 2018 at the fiscal 2017 levels. As that date approaches, yet another potential government shutdown is on the helm. The current continuing resolution waives PAYGO sequestration, automatic cuts to some mandatory federal programs that would otherwise kick in because of the deficit impact of the tax bill, and provides a temporary patch for CHIP ($2.85 billion).

Negotiations on raising the fiscal year 2018 spending caps are ongoing with the need for the top-line numbers to be determined before leadership can work out the details of an omnibus spending bill to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2018. Democrats continue to press for an equal increase in the spending caps for both defense and domestic programs. It is yet to be determined if the budget deal would raise the federal debt ceiling. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Treasury Department can probably delay a default until March.

Democratic leaders also are pushing for action on legislation to extend legal status to almost 800,000 individuals who were given temporary protection under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Initiative—a program President Trump has said he will end in March. The president clearly has stated that he won’t agree to any solution unless Democrats agree to fund a border wall and overhaul the broader immigration system.  

Disaster recovery for residents of Florida, Texas, Louisiana, California, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands is also on the table. The House passed a disaster spending measure, but the Senate was unable to before the end of the year. Senate Democrats withheld their consent for speedy consideration of the disaster measure largely because it did not provide sufficient aid for Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands.

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), to fund the cost-sharing subsidies for low-income Affordable Care Act enrollees was initialized after President Trump had stopped the payments to insurers in October. However, the cost-sharing reduction payments are expected to be part of the next federal spending bill.

The Murray/Alexander bill will need major changes to repair the damage left by repealing the health law’s individual mandate, as it may now not do enough to reduce premiums on the country’s individual health insurance markets. More analysis is needed before any changes to the proposed legislation can be made and included in a 2018 spending package.

Join us Jan. 25 at 3 p.m. CT for the Federal Policy Update webinar to learn the focus of the network’s collective policy efforts in 2018 and some of the trainings, tools and events that will be made available to support your involvement.

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