Now that Congress is back from Thanksgiving break, it’s time for them to get back to work. While Republican leaders are pushing to pass some version of the Trump Tax Plan by the end of the year, there are actually far more pressing issues that they’ve thus far left unresolved. Let’s review what these issues are, and why Congress must resolve them in the weeks ahead.
No budget + No debt ceiling fix = “Big league” trouble
When Congress agreed to a short-term spending bill in September, they established a December 8 deadline to pass a new budget bill and extend the debt ceiling. With less than two weeks left, Congress seems no closer to resolving either.
Why is this such a big deal? For one, missing this deadline will trigger a federal government shutdown. If that’s not bad enough, the federal government will fail to meet obligations that were already set by Congress if it’s forced to default on its debt. On top of all that, Congress has until the end of the year to avert automatic across-the-board budget cuts that will otherwise kick in as a result of the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Congressional Republican leaders have previously signaled their desire to address all these pressing fiscal matters by December. But with each passing day they spend wrangling Republican votes for the bitterly partisan Trump Tax Plan, that’s one fewer day they have to secure the Democratic votes they need to keep the government open and fully funded.
Why Congress must check up on these critical health care issues
Sensing their growing leverage, a growing number of Democrats are demanding that any bipartisan budget deal also resolve two critical issues in the nation’s health care system.
First off, Congress has allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to lapse. If CHIP is not reauthorized by the end of the year, at least 27,000 Nevada kids and about nine million children across the nation will probably lose their health care coverage. The program has typically enjoyed broad bipartisan support, but it’s now caught in the midst of Republican efforts to weaken Obamacare.
Speaking of Obamacare, the health insurance exchanges remain at risk if Congress does not pass the bipartisan Alexander-Murray bill to rein in the Trump Administration’s efforts to sabotage the health care law. Some Senate Republicans have floated the idea of passing Alexander-Murray alongside their version of the Trump Tax Plan, which repeals a key part of Obamacare. Democrats thus far have refused their offer, instead demanding clean legislation to stabilize the insurance market.
Don’t forget DACA
Another unresolved issue is DACA, the program that’s protected some 800,000 DREAMers nationally (including 13,000+ here in Nevada) from deportation. The Trump Administration decided to end the program in September, but Members of Congress in both parties have expressed interest in passing some version of the DREAM Act to protect these young immigrants permanently.
Earlier this month, nearly two dozen House Republicans urged Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) to pass legislation to protect DREAMers alongside the budget bill. At the same time, far-right, anti-immigrant hard-liners have been demanding no DACA deal be included in any budget package. Thus far, Ryan and the White House have sided with the hard-liners. But if they continue to side with the far right, they further risk alienating the Democrats they need to vote for the budget deal.
What comes next?
At first glance, it may seem odd that health care and immigration policies are so closely tied to the federal budget. But since Congress has failed to pass any legislation to protect DREAMers, stabilize the health insurance exchanges, keep health insurance for nine million American children, or ensure the nation can continue to pay its bills, this next month is probably Congress’ best and final opportunity to address all these pressing issues.
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Reps. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson), and Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas) have all called for a bipartisan budget deal that takes care of the debt ceiling, the DREAM Act, and health care. In contrast, Senator Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) have responded to this increasingly urgent deadline with continued calls to pass the Trump Tax Plan (which addresses none of these issues). As long as that remains Congress’ legislative focal point, Nevada and the nation may be spending the winter holidays watching their federal government go dark.
Cover photo by Nate Lee, made available by Wikimedia, and licensed under Creative Commons.