What to Expect in Congress This Session

The US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC, on January 3, 2018, before the opening of the second session of the 115th Congress. (Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / Getty Images)The US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC, on January 3, 2018, before the opening of the second session of the 115th Congress. (Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / Getty Images)

It’s now officially 2018, and that means we’re on the verge of a new Congressional session — and all of the chaos it contains. Republicans managed to end 2017 on a high note by passing an improbable and unsustainable handout to corporations and the rich — and by throwing a repeal of the Obamacare mandate into the mix, too.

But now the GOP is heading into what many are predicting could be a bloodbath of a 2018 midterm election — with both the House and the Senate in danger of flipping into Democratic control. Will anything actually get passed this session, or will the buck get passed until after Election Day?

Here is what we expect to see from Congress in 2018:

1. Immigration

The biggest issue that Congress will aim to tackle right away is the repeal of the DREAM Act, which has put thousands of undocumented Americans brought into the US as children in danger of being deported back to home countries many don’t even remember. Democrats promised to make DACA the fight of the year, and we can expect a bill to address the issue as soon as Congress gets down to work. The question is, will enough Republicans come on board to pass a new policy?

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and other Republicans have joined in with Democrats to urge a new DACA solution, but President Donald Trump continues to urge measures be added to any bill to discourage Democrats from signing on. Most recently he argued that any bill that offers a renewal of the program must also include funding for a border wall between the US and Mexico — a pet talking point from his election campaign. And it’s a requirement most Democrats see as non-negotiable.

“The Republican tweeted last week that ‘there can be no DACA without the desperately needed wall at the southern border and an end to the horrible chain migration and ridiculous lottery system of immigration,'” Masslive.com reports.

Whether a compromise will be found will be one of the biggest questions of 2018.

2. CHIP

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, a program which provides low or no cost health insurance to children of lower or middle income families who lack insurance of their own, received a small reprieve at the end of the year: Congress gave CHIP a small short-term funding boost to keep the program afloat. But the funds were very limited, and many states are in danger of cutting children off of their insurance within the next month if Congress doesn’t renew the funds.

Keeping 9 million children covered should be a no-brainer — it’s never been controversial before. That’s why even President Trump’s own advisors are urging Congress to make re-authorization a day one priority.

“Here’s the bottom line: children’s health has to be above partisan haggling,” writes Boris Epshteyn, former Senior Advisor to the Trump Campaign. “The thought of a mother or father getting a notice that their child would be losing health coverage is truly heartbreaking. Enough with the short-term solutions from Congress. Since both parties already agree on the need for this program, our elected leaders have to fully reauthorize CHIP as soon as they get back to work in January.”

3. Government Funding

CHIP isn’t the only initiative that didn’t get funded last year. The government has only been running due to a series of continuing resolutions — all designed to give it just enough money to avoid a shutdown every month or two. But now that the tax “reform” package is through, Congress is ready to finally compile and implement a full budget — or shut down the government for good while trying.

But putting together a budget everyone can agree on won’t be easy. There isn’t just DACA and the border wall and CHIP to deal with, but funding for FEMA, military spending, infrastructure and more. And that includes trying to deal with the “deficit hawks” who will argue against raising the debt ceiling, since they only seem to approve of increasing national debt when the money is going into massive tax cuts for the rich.

Bloomberg News reports:

It’s undecided whether a budget deal would also raise the federal debt ceiling, which was again hit in December. The Treasury Department can probably delay a default until March, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated. Lawmakers need to agree on new spending to aid victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, primarily in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and wildfires in California. The House passed an $81 billion bill in December that stalled in the Senate amid complaints it didn’t fully address rebuilding for Texas and Puerto Rico in particular.

4. Cuts to the Social Safety Net

And finally there are the impeding cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare that are coming down the pike. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan promised a pivot to gutting “entitlements” — such as ensuring retirees have money to live on, providing everyone with some form of health care coverage and so on — now that the handouts to the wealthy are in the books. So, expect that battle to come sooner rather than later.

To try to reframe the issue, the GOP has divided the budget into two pots: Defense — military spending — and “non-defense discretionary spending” — research, education, public health, environmental spending and everything else. And Tea Party Caucus Republicans like Mark Meadows are painting “discretionary” as nothing but “wasting” taxpayer money.

“The (Trump) administration has already been willing to say: ‘We’re going to increase non-defense discretionary spending … by about 7 percent,'” Meadows told CBS “Face the Nation,” according to the Fiscal Times. “Now, Democrats are saying that’s not enough, we need to give the government a pay raise of 10 to 11 percent. For a fiscal conservative, I don’t see where the rationale is. … Eventually you run out of other people’s money.”