Congress returns next week facing several looming challenges leading with President Trump’s call to strike an infrastructure deal promptly, and agreeing to a temporary spending deal to avoid a government shutdown.
Other key issues facing the GOP-controlled Congress include immigration reform and whether to fund Trump’s promised U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Trump is scheduled to meet early next week with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to set legislative priorities on Capitol Hill. But few if any major initiatives are likely to pass without Democratic support, especially in the Senate where Republicans now have just a 51-49 majority.
To be sure, Trump has made clear that he wants Congress to pass a trillion-dollar spending bill to fix the country’s crumbing roads, bridges, ports and other infrastructure.
Political analysts predicted Trump would try to broker an infrastructure deal at the start of his presidency, considering the idea, which would result in at least some short-term jobs, appeared to have bipartisan support.
However, at least some congressional Republicans seemed unwilling to spend at least $1 trillion on such an initiative. And the situation now appears further complicated by the recently passed, GOP-led tax reform bill that is projected to add roughly $1.5 trillion to the federal debt over the next 10 years.
“Infrastructure is by far the easiest” of Trump’s priorities, the president said a couple of weeks ago, after signing into law the tax reform bill. “People want it — Republicans and Democrats. We’re going to have tremendous Democrat support on infrastructure as you know. I could’ve started with infrastructure — I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road. So we’ll be having that done pretty quickly.”
The White House reportedly is working on a roughly 70-page infrastructure proposal to be released in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, agreeing to another temporary spending bill by January 19 to avoid a government shutdown is seen as Congress’ most immediate concern.
The media routinely play up the drama of a potential standoff resulting in a shutdown. But that situation has been avoided since 2013, considering how politically disastrous it could be for either party, especially in a midterm election year such as 2018.
Still, a demand by Trump to include border wall funding or Democrats’ demanding a fix to the soon-to-expire Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program easily could complicate budget negotiations.
Trump earlier this year shuttered the Obama-era DACA program that protected millions of young illegal immigrants from deportation. The program officially expires in March. Trump also has signaled his desire for a permanent, congressionally-approved fix, as have Capitol Hill Democrats and many Republicans.
However, the related partisan horse trading — including possible attempts to package the legislation with other initiatives — could turn into a sticking point.
Trump and other top officials publicly have gone back and forth on whether funding to complete the border wall must be included in any spending or immigration deal.
Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, recently told “Fox News Sunday” that Trump still intends to fulfill his campaign promise to build the wall, as part of an overall national security plan. But Short also suggested the president wouldn’t insist on wall funding at the expense of larger U.S. interests, with the potential government shutdown looming.