President Donald Trump and many Democrats and Republicans in Congress all enter the new year spoiling for a fight.
Unresolved issues set aside in 2017 to make way for a tax overhaul are poised to surface early in 2018, giving Trump the opportunity for the confrontation with Washington’s establishment that he’s promised since his election.
The president wants the Mexican border wall he ran on as a candidate, but that hasn’t advanced farther than prototypes in the southern California desert. Democrats want protection for young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, whose lives were upended by Trump’s decision to end a program sparing them from deportation. Republicans need to deliver on promises to rein in the reach of the federal government in the hope of avoiding a wipeout in the November midterm elections.
“People are not going to come back singing the Sound of Music together. January is going to be contentious,” Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the Republican chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said in an interview Friday.
A fight over government spending and immigration this month may bleed into a year-long battle over even bigger issues — House Speaker Paul Ryan’s push to cut spending on the social safety net and Trump’s campaign promise to finance a massive infrastructure construction plan. The backdrop for those battles will be the midterm election in November in which Democrats hope to take one or both chambers of Congress, an outcome that would derail Trump’s agenda for the remainder of his term.
And hanging over all of Washington’s business is Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s continuing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, a probe that has already snared two top Trump campaign officials and an adviser. There is no sign that the investigation is concluding, contrary to the insistence of White House lawyers late last year.
If an urgent attempt to strike a deal on spending and immigration fails this week, the federal government may again be on the brink of a shutdown.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Legislative Director Marc Short will meet with Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress on Wednesday at the Capitol, said Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman. There is some optimism among congressional aides that they will strike a deal to resolve some of the most acute issues — especially spending and immigration.
Congress last year repeatedly delayed passing legislation to fund the government through October. Some Democrats want to use the next deadline, Jan. 19, as leverage to force Trump to sign legislation to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers.” Trump said on Friday that he won’t agree unless Democrats consent to fund a border wall and to a broader and more controversial overhaul of the immigration system.
“The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc.,” Trump said in a tweet from his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, referring to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Meadows says his caucus is ready to stand its own ground on immigration issues, including seeking an end to family preferences and the diversity visa lottery, a program that provides visas to people in countries with low rates of migration to the U.S.
During an appearance Sunday on “Face the Nation,” he also indicated the conservatives he leads are skeptical of a spending deal. And earlier in the week he said the Freedom Caucus was prepared to fight over reauthorization of a controversial government surveillance program that they reluctantly agreed to extend only until Jan. 19.
“It looks like we’re going to spend more money on growing the government in January than perhaps the biggest amount of money that we spent since the Obama stimulus plan. And that’s a concern for conservatives,” he told CBS News.
Defense Spending and ACA Subsidies
On top of spending and immigration, lawmakers need to address GOP demands for higher defense spending and the fate of children’s health insurance and Affordable Care Act subsidies. Most likely, some of those issues will be put off again.
“The Republicans decided that tax breaks for the wealthiest 1% were more important than addressing the crisis and lives of the people,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in December.