The fight over the next government shutdown — just 15 days away — already looks like a disaster

  • The deal to reopen the federal government, passed Monday, will fund the government through February 8.
  • The Senate’s deal to end the shutdown included a commitment from Republicans to try to codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program into law.
  • Just a day after Congress struck the deal, negotiations over DACA are not looking promising.

Congress voted to reopen the government on Monday, ending the partial shutdown of federal services after just 69 hours. But in doing so, lawmakers set up another shutdown deadline just over two weeks away.

The two parties have just 15 days, until February 8, to resolve the differences over immigration, defence funding, and social programs that helped prompt the shutdown last weekend. And the chances of avoiding a second shutdown already look grim.

“A sequel seems likely given absolutely no policy resolution,” said Chris Krueger, an analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group.

DACA is the central fight

The main policy issue that could push Washington to the brink of a second shutdown is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields from deportation about 700,000 unauthorised immigrants who came to the US as minors.

As part of the deal to end a shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to hold a vote to codify the program into law. President Donald Trump in September announced plans to end the program, but he gave Congress until March 5 to work out a permanent solution for it.

The key sticking point in the February shutdown negotiations won’t be formulating a bill that is acceptable to most senators. Rather, it will come in finding a deal that both the House of Representatives and the White House support.

The White House has already poured cold water on a bipartisan bill from GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.

“The Graham-Durbin proposal is not a proposal the president can sign,” the White House deputy press secretary, Raj Shah, said.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, reiterated the position Tuesday, saying the Graham-Durbin bill “should be declared dead on arrival.”

Trump also addressed the coming fight over DACA in a statement applauding the end of the government shutdown.

“As I have always said, once the government is funded, my administration will work toward solving the problem of very unfair illegal immigration,” Trump said. “We will make a long-term deal on immigration if, and only if, it is good for our country.”

House Republicans have already declared themselves not privy to any deal between McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“There were no commitments made in the House,” Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, said Tuesday.

In fact, to help secure votes from the conservative House Freedom Caucus to pass a spending bill last week, House leadership agreed to support a staunchly conservative immigration bill. That legislation would be dead on arrival in the Senate, and it shows the massive gap between the two chambers.

“We believe that you need to start in the House and it has been my position consistently, you start in the House with the most conservative bill, you send it to the Senate, it gets moderated in the Senate, and then comes back,” Rep. Mark Meadows, the Freedom Caucus chair, told reporters last weekend. “And perhaps a bill that I vote on to start the process in the House is not one I vote for in final passage, but it’s the way that it’s supposed to work.”

It’s not only Republicans rejecting ideas to solve the impasse on DACA. Schumer said his offer to Trump to partially fund the president’s long-promised wall on the Mexican border, made during a negotiation on Friday, was no longer valid.

But that’s not all

DACA represents the central issue of the next shutdown fight, but it won’t the only policy problem Congress must resolve before February 8.

Also high on the list is funding for the 2018 fiscal year. The bill passed Monday was a short-term funding vehicle known as a continuing resolution, and it is the fourth such stopgap measure Congress has used to fund the government since September.

Members of both parties have criticised the use of continuing resolutions, which provide little long-term certainty for federal agencies. Before the next deadline, congressional leaders must agree on funding levels for defence and nondefense programs over the next year and a half.

Reaching an agreement is harder than it sounds. Republicans want to bump military spending by twice as much as nondefense spending, while Democrats want those two sides to rise in equal measure.

Given the ramifications, the funding issue could become nearly as contentious as the DACA fight.

Lawmakers must also come to agreements on additional funds for disaster relief, extensions of certain Medicare provisions, funds for programs to combat the opioid crisis, policies to stabilise the individual health-insurance marketplaces, and more.

While none of these issues are as politically divisive as DACA, they could complicate negotiations over the next two-plus weeks.

Perhaps best summarizing how far lawmakers have to go, Cowen’s Krueger described the agreement that ended the shutdown as a deal “to maybe do a Senate deal later” with “no agreements from the House or White House.”

He added: “It is literally a deal that hinges on a nonbinding promise for the Senate to begin talking about immigration later this month on the floor.”