The Republican-controlled Congress managed the bare minimum task of keeping the government open before the holiday recess, yet made little progress on a medley of divisive fiscal and social issues it will now be forced to confront in January.
Among these are resolving a long-running dispute over defense spending levels; raising the nation’s debt ceiling, which came back into force this month; and dealing with the looming deportations of undocumented immigrants, known as dreamers, who arrived in the U.S. as children.
All the unfinished business could impede President Donald Trump’s ability to rack up more legislative victories, including a large-scale infrastructure bill, before the 2018 midterm elections.
“At some point, and for the good of the country, I predict we will start working with the Democrats in a Bipartisan fashion. Infrastructure would be a perfect place to start,” Trump tweeted Friday morning.
Lawmakers have a limited amount of time until they turn their focus to campaigning for re-election. “We need to get the leftovers done,” said Ryan Costello, a Pennsylvania Republican. “Until we deal with Groundhog Day, we can’t move on to our agenda.”
Leaders were able to corral rank-and-file lawmakers to vote for a bare-bones funding patchwork, and the government now has enough money to operate through Jan. 19.
Patience, however, is running thin among both Democrats and Republicans, so the votes may not be there to keep delaying final spending measures for the current fiscal year.
Many lawmakers are eager to take agencies off auto-pilot and to devote more funding for the armed forces, the opioid abuse crisis, medical research and other priorities. They are divided, however, over how much to spend and how much to add to deficits.
To get the stopgap bill enacted, lawmakers dropped plans to provide long-term financing for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and the community health centers program as well as a long-term extension of electronic surveillance programs. Resolving those issues will take priority over the president’s plans for an infrastructure bill and welfare reform.
Congress also left town without being able to agree on an $81 billion hurricane and wildfire relief package, so working out differences on that will be high on the agenda in the new year.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said Thursday that he thought the disagreements could have been resolved “had my Republican colleagues, especially in the House, not put them on the back burner while jamming through their tax bill.”
Both parties are expected to return to the negotiating table in early January to try to hammer out a budget cap agreement, raising limits on domestic and defense spending imposed under the 2011 Budget Control Act.
They are far apart.
“We find ourselves no closer to an agreement than we were 11 months ago,” Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, said Thursday.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that Republicans have sought to increase defense spending by $54 billion and non-defense spending by $37 billion. Democrats find that unacceptable because they want equal increases.
Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and a member of the Appropriations Committee, said that the Democratic formula of “parity” increases made more sense in the days of divided government and less so now that Republicans control Congress and the White House. He argued that increases should be based on demonstrated needs.
In addition to agreeing on spending levels, both sides must resolve whether and how any of the budget cap increases will be paid for. In the past, Congress has tapped federal pensions, crop insurance and Medicare provider payments.