As the festive period closes, lawmakers will start returning to Washington this week with the Senate due to reconvene and hold votes for the first time in 2018 tomorrow. Neither chamber will have the luxury of a clean slate to start the new year, however, as Congress faces deadlines on government funding and a host of individual programs after electing to punt those decisions at the end of last month. The stopgap spending bill passed just before the holidays set Jan. 19 as the new deadline for action on government funding, which will likely be tied to negotiations on the deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program, a potential Affordable Care Act (ACA) stabilization package, and the reauthorization of a government surveillance program under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Bipartisan negotiations on an omnibus to handle all of those issues are due to resume tomorrow, with a formal meeting scheduled between the “Big Four” congressional leaders and White House officials. Thus far, Democrats have thrown up relatively few obstacles to keeping the government running on a stopgap basis, but they are facing increasing pressure to engage in brinksmanship over issues such as DACA and their health care priorities. Republican leaders will also face demands from their conservative wing to include their policy goals — such as funding for a border wall and the end of a visa lottery program — that are considered anathema to Democrats.
The Senate’s new session will begin with the swearing in of Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), who won a shocking victory in Alabama’s special election last month. That brings the Republican advantage in the chamber down to a single vote, 51-49, although the majority party will still be able to afford one defection as Vice President Mike Pence will be available to break ties if necessary. Nevertheless, the narrowness of the split in the Senate may dampen Republican optimism that they can force through another partisan priority as they did for tax reform late last year.
The only floor action scheduled so far in 2018 is a vote tomorrow in the Senate to confirm John Rood as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. The House will be out this week and is expected to start its 2018 session on Jan. 8.