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January 04, 2018

*-- Congress set for return to busy agenda that includes DACA, healthcare, gov't funding --*

Members of Congress are returning to Washington from holiday recess with a packed legislative schedule, including another possible federal government shutdown.

The Senate reconvenes Wednesday and the House on Monday.

Republicans, without any help from Democrats, gave President Donald Trump his first major legislative accomplishment by overhauling the tax code on Dec. 20. Before lawmakers left town for the holiday break, Congress passed a stop-gap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown -- but that funding runs out Jan. 19.

Congressional leaders from both parties will meet Wednesday at the Capitol with White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and legislative-affairs director Marc Short. Their agenda includes avoiding a shutdown.

"I think the GOP leadership will be running the gauntlet. The question is: Will they be able to survive?" said Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Legislators have attempted to raise budget caps on defense and domestic programs and fund the government through September, which marks the end of the fiscal year. Otherwise, they might need to pass more stop-gap measures.

If lawmakers don't boost budget caps, automatic across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, kick in. If spending isn't increased, it would trigger automatic spending cuts through the sequester.

Last month, Republicans passed increased military funding by $650?billion through Sept. 30.

Other issues facing Congress include immigration, disaster aid and health insurance.
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In September, Trump gave Congress six months to come up with legislation that protects 700,000 young immigrants, known as "dreamers," from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The DACA system, implemented under former President Barack Obama, expires March 5.

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he hopes a bipartisan working comes up with a deal the Senate can pass this month.

"We have been gridlocked on this issue for years," McConnell told reporters. "We do not want to just spin our wheels and have nothing to show for it."

Congressional Democrats have said they are open to finding additional funding for border security, but have ruled out funding the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border promised by Trump during his presidential campaign.

"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 posted on Twitter last week. "Chain migration" refers to the policy that allows naturalized immigrants to petition for relatives to come to the United States.

When Congress returns, Republicans will have a slimmer majority in the Senate -- 51-49 -- when Alabama Democrat Doug Jones is sworn in Wednesday. Also, Tina Smith will replace fellow Democratic Sen. Al Franken, who resigned his seat representing Minnesota after being accused of groping women.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona plans to return to Washington after undergoing brain cancer treatment, his friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation.
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On Tuesday, Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and entitlement reform are at the top of the agenda for House Republicans in 2018.

"The next big thing you're going to see is a need for workers, and I think the next thing we can do is to go and reform those welfare programs that are trapping people in a failed welfare state," Scalise said Tuesday. "Let's actually put some work requirements in place so that we can get people back to work rebuild the middle class."

"We're going to have to work on health care again. I'm for repealing and replacing Obamacare," he added.

As part of the tax reform, Congress repealed the ACA's individual mandate -- but Congress has been unable to totally roll back the health program.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has promised votes on the bills on stabilizing the individual insurance market as part of her support for the tax measure. She agreed to not address the matter until this year.

"There is every reason to believe that these important provisions can and will be delivered as part of a bipartisan agreement," Collins said in a statement at the time. "And Majority Leader McConnell has told us that he will uphold his commitment to schedule and support the legislation."

Before the break, the House approved $81 billion aid package for Americans afflicted by hurricanes and wildfires, but the Senate delayed the issue to this month.

Also, Congress only approved enough funding through March for for the expired Children's Health Insurance Program.

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