November 28, 2017
*-- Congress returns to full slate on Capitol Hill: Tax reform, DACA and gov't funding --*
The Senate tax bill leads a long to-do list as Congress returns from its holiday adjournment on Monday -- and has just two weeks to deal with it until lawmakers break again.
A marathon debate on the Senate's tax reform version will happen this week, followed by a floor vote that's expected Thursday.
If the bill passes, it must be reconciled with the House version. President Donald Trump signaled that he will be involved in attempting to influence uncommitted Republicans senators, starting with a White House lunch on Tuesday.
The Senate Budget Committee will also meet Tuesday and could send the bill to the chamber floor.
Because the GOP holds a 52-48 majority in the Senate, defection by only a few Republicans could sink the tax plan. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is a potential "no" vote and has been critical of the bill's attempt to end the Affordable Care Act's controversial individual mandate -- the provision that requires all uninsured Americans to buy coverage. Last week, though, she indicated that she supported ending the mandate.
Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. and James Lankford, R-Okla., all have announced reservations regarding the bill because of its potential to raise the national debt.
Another complication is a lack of an official estimate of the effects of a tax cut on businesses and individuals. The Congressional Budget Office said Sunday a "macroeconomic analysis" of the tax legislation has not yet been completed.
The Trump administration is pressing for passage of the tax overhaul -- the first major revision since 1986 -- and its arrival at the White House for Trump's signature before the end of the year. Congress is expected to remain in session for about 15 days before a pre-Christmas adjournment.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said deadlines are an ideal way to compel congressional Republicans to complete their tasks, telling The Hill, "I think that's maybe the only way we can get it done. We're the ultimate do-your-homework-at-the-last-minute crowd."
Congress must also complete legislation to prevent a government shutdown by Dec. 8, when present funding will run out.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said a stopgap measure could beat the deadline but added he wants a full fiscal year funding bill for 2018 passed by the end of the year. Current spending caps indicate that automatic budget reductions could be triggered in January unless a bill is passed.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats are demanding a decision on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program -- an initiative begun under former President Barack Obama that allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to stay without fear of deportation. Although the Trump administration hopes to abolish the program, it has given Congress time to save it
Without Democratic support, a funding bill preventing a government shutdown could be a problem for the GOP majority. Several liberal Democratic senators said they will oppose a funding bill without a prior agreement on the DACA program.
Lawmakers also face a Dec. 31 deadline to reauthorize the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program, which allows the government to collect communications from suspected foreign terrorists, spies and other international targets. A variety of bills, with conflicting limits regarding the NSA's reach, have been introduced.
Congress must also reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program prior to its expiration next week. A House bill, coming after months of negotiation by GOP representatives of coastal states, was passed, but the Senate has not begun steps toward reauthorizing the program.