Congress Faces Long To-Do List, Short Deadlines

At the end of 2017, Congress punted the long-term resolution of a number of thorny issues into this year. Here's a rundown of what lawmakers will need to hammer out in early 2018:

Government Spending

The government's current funding expires after Jan. 19. Congressional leaders hope to strike a two-year budget deal on an overall funding level that would avoid the so-called sequester cuts and then use that to write a detailed spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year, which runs through September. But Democrats and Republicans haven't agreed on how much to lift military and nonmilitary spending.

Children's Health Insurance

While lawmakers broadly support a five-year reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program, they have yet to decide how to pay for it. In its latest short-term spending bill, Congress made $2.85 billion available to shore up states' funding for the program. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have indicated that should be enough to get states through the end of January or early February, a House GOP aide said. But states have signaled they need more certainty.


Democrats and some Republicans are pushing to resolve this month the fate of Dreamers, young people living in the U.S. illegally who were brought here as children. In September, President Donald Trump ended a program shielding them from deportation, but gave Congress until March 5 to pass legislation before protections start to expire. Democrats are willing to support tighter border security, but don't want a physical wall constructed along the entire border with Mexico.

Debt Limit

Lawmakers agreed last year to suspend the debt limit until Dec. 8 -- since then the Treasury Department has been deploying "extraordinary measures" to keep on paying the government's bills. Congress likely won't face a drop-dead deadline on the debt limit until March, according to nonpartisan estimates, but Republicans have mulled combining a debt-ceiling increase with the next spending bill.


In December, lawmakers extended a program that authorizes surveillance of foreigners outside the U.S. through the duration of the spending bill, which expires Jan. 19. Congressional leaders want to pass a longer-term reauthorization of the program, but critics want to install more privacy protections for any U.S. citizens caught up in its surveillance. This issue doesn't split along party lines, instead fracturing both Democrats and Republicans.

Disaster Aid

The House in late December passed an $81 billion package of disaster aid for states and territories trying to recover from last year's devastating storms. But the Senate didn't take it up, because Democrats said the measure didn't do enough for Puerto Rico. They are pushing to waive a requirement that Puerto Rico match some federal funds for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency projects, for example.

Write to Kristina Peterson at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 03, 2018 05:44 ET (10:44 GMT)