Today on the Hill: Immigration Emerges as Key Sticking Point in Funding Negotiations; Jones, Smith to Join Senate; Hatch Announces Retirement

Lawmakers will resume their government funding negotiations in earnest today as Congress seeks to avoid a government shutdown when the current continuing resolution (CR) expires on Jan. 19. This round of negotiations is expected to be the most fraught given that Congress has already punted funding decisions multiple times since the beginning of the fiscal year in October and there is no longer a holiday period to act as a de facto deadline.

The main policy fight seems to be over immigration policy, with Democrats determined to provide a legislative solution for the so-called “Dreamers” and conservatives seeking to include government funding for a wall along the nation’s southern border. So far, both sides appear convinced that a shutdown will not be politically viable for the opposing party, which has entrenched the impasse. As the “Big Four” and White House officials meet today to discuss an omnibus package, watch for both parties to hammer away at other outstanding issues — such as raising budget caps and crafting a possible Affordable Care Act (ACA) stabilization package — while leaving the immigration divide to be settled closer to the Jan. 19 deadline.

The Senate’s official roster for the 2018 session will be finalized today with the swearing in of two Democrats, Sens. Doug Jones (D-AL) and Tina Smith (D-MN), who will be replacing Luther Strange and Al Franken, respectively. The newly-minted senators will cast their first votes this afternoon when the upper chamber considers the nomination of John Rood to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

Another major Senate development broke yesterday when Senate Finance Chair and President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced that he would not seek an eighth term in the upper chamber this fall. The announcement clears the way for former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has long been rumored to be seeking the seat. Sen. Hatch’s decision will also likely spark a change in Republican committee leadership next year as the Finance Committee post is considered to be one of the most important policymaking positions in Congress.