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Congress Is Still Struggling to Fund the Government

A number of controversial issues have emerged in recent weeks as roadblocks to a new budget bill.
The United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

The United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

At midnight on Friday, the federal government will run out of money and partially shut down unless Congress passes, and President Donald Trump signs, legislation funding the government.

This wasn't supposed to happen again. In February, Congress passed a big bipartisan budget bill that set top-line government spending numbers through 2019 and funded the government for six weeks, during which time congressional negotiators were expected to finalize the details of the spending deal. The spending levels, which were the result of months of negotiation between Republicans and Democrats, authorized $300-$400 billion worth of additional federal spending (than under current law) and were widely viewed as a victory for defense hawks, Democrats, and pretty much everyone other than deficit hawks.

In the intervening weeks, however, a number of controversial issues have emerged as potential sticking points in a deal, particularly given the high likelihood that this legislation represents both political parties' last chance to advance any major priorities before the mid-term elections in November. This morning, a number of news outlets reported that the legislation is not yet finalized, and key disagreements remain. Here are the big issues at present:

The Affordable Care Act (Again and Always)

In exchange for her vote for tax reform in December (and a repeal of the penalty associated with the individual mandate), Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) was promised that Congress would pass (before the end of 2017), and Trump would support, two measures meant to stabilize the ACA's non-group markets. These two measures have not yet passed, and they were expected to be included in this legislation. Some Republicans, however, are insisting that insurers be barred from using any ACA stabilization funds to subsidize any insurance plans that include abortion coverage, a requirement that Democrats argue is an unacceptable expansion of the Hyde amendment (which bans the use of federal funds to pay for abortions). On Tuesday morning, Collins told reporters she saw little room for further negotiations with Democrats on the issue, and reports indicate the measures are not currently in the bill.

The Gateway Project

The spending bill was also expected to include funding for a major infrastructure project—a commuter rail tunnel between New York City and New Jersey—that is a priority of Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and some Republican House lawmakers from New York and New Jersey. Trump, however, is opposed to the project and has threatened to veto the spending bill if Gateway funding is included. Trump reportedly opposes the project primarily because it's a Schumer priority.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (and the Border Wall)

Over the weekend, the White House and congressional Democrats reportedly discussed several deals exchanging border wall funding for protection of DACA recipients but were unable to reach an agreement. The White House offered to extend the DACA program (but not provide a path to citizenship for recipients) through 2020 in exchange for the full $25 billion of funding for the border wall. Democrats rejected the plan, demanding a path to citizenship for the 1.8 million DACA-eligible immigrants in the country. At present, protections for DACA recipients are not expected to be included in the spending bill.

Disputes aside, most do expect the spending bill to pass in time to avert another shutdown.