The next government-shutdown deadline is 3 days away -- and it doesn't look promising

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  • The US government will shut down after Thursday if no new funding deal is reached.
  • Disagreements in Congress remain on funding and immigration and could lead to another shutdown.
  • The federal government was shut down for three days in January.

The federal government’s first partial shutdown of the year came to a close just 14 days ago. Already, another shutdown is bearing down on Congress.

Because of the short-term nature of the funding agreement that ended the shutdown, lawmakers have only until the end of Thursday to pass another bill to keep the government open. If the government enters into another shutdown, it would also be the shortest time between government shutterings since 1984.

While congressional leaders are attempting to find legislative solutions for a slew of politically thorny issues, it appears that the two parties remain a good distance away from settling their differences, and another shutdown is a real possibility.

Immigration remains the crux of the fight

The biggest obstacle to a long-term funding solution, or even a short-term punt, is immigration reform.

Senate Democrats shut down the government in January primarily over the lack of a solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. President Donald Trump gave Congress until March 5 to codify the Obama-era program that protects from deportation close to 700,000 unauthorised immigrants who were brought to the country as minors.

As part of the deal to reopen the government, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would negotiate in good faith on a deal to resolve the DACA issue. He said that if there was no deal by February 8, he would open the Senate floor for a debate on a bill.

In the week and a half since the deal, there has been little outward sign of progress on an immigration plan.

A bipartisan group of senators met over the past week to try to come to a consensus, but there is growing pessimism of a deal, and the bulk of each party remains divided on the approach.

Within the Republican Party, many House conservatives want to push for broader changes to the immigration system, while moderates want to stay focused on DACA. Those House conservatives are still pushing hard for a vote on a bill that would die almost immediately in the Senate.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-highest-ranking House Republican, and Sen. John Thune, the third-highest-ranking Senate Republican, were standing beside each other at a press conference Thursday when they directly contradicted the other about the goals of an immigration plan.

Rodgers told reporters that the House GOP wanted to advance a bill addressing immigration broadly, including adjustments to legal immigration programs. Immediately after, Thune said a narrower focus was ideal.

“If we can solve DACA and border security, that may be the best we can hope for,” Thune said.

The White House has also complicated the issue with its own plan, which it released January 25. Trump’s framework would provide an avenue to citizenship for DACA recipients and another 1 million immigrants who could qualify for the program, but it would also makes changes to some legal immigration programs that Democrats consider poison-pill measures.

During a speech at the Republican congressional conference’s annual retreat Thursday, Trump pushed for the Senate to bring to the floor a bill based on the framework.

“The Republican position on immigration is the center, mainstream view of the American people, with some extra strength at the border and security at the border added in,” Trump said. “What we’re asking for and what the American people are pleading for is sanity and common sense in our immigration system.”

Spending, debt ceiling, and lots of other problems

Other issues aside from immigration loom in the background of the funding fight.

Perhaps the most pressing is the long-term funding for the government. Both parties want to increase spending for defence and nondefense programs for fiscal-year 2018 beyond caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Act, but leaders must agree on how high that funding can go.

Republicans want to increase defence funding by almost twice as much as nondefense spending, while Democrats want the caps on the two sides increased in equal amounts.

Given the disagreement, Republicans are already talking about using another continuing resolution – the short-term funding bill that has been used to kick the can on a larger funding deal since September – to keep the government open until March 23.

Whether even that shorter bill can pass is questionable, however. Democrats want to ensure that any DACA solution is passed before the soft deadline on March 5. Many Republicans, who dislike so-called CRs in general, may not sign on either.

“I don’t see the possibility of the House Freedom Caucus supporting a fifth CR without substantial changes,” Rep. Mark Meadows, the chair of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Thursday.

Importantly, another punt on funding would most likely put the next shutdown deadline close to the date when the federal government will hit the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling has been a politically divisive issue, but stepping over the limit would throw the global financial system into chaos.

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