WASHINGTON — When Congress returns to Washington after the August recess, an unusually heavy workload greets lawmakers, dominated at first by the need to keep the nation’s fiscal house in order. Here’s what to watch for when the House and Senate get back to work on Tuesday:
Aiding Hurricane Victims
Emergency aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey will be front and center. The White House has already submitted an initial $7.85 billion emergency funding request; the overall tab could eventually top $100 billion. This first tranche should pass quickly; the House has set a vote for Wednesday. One possible wrinkle: The Trump administration wants the hurricane aid tied to an increase in the federal debt limit, a move House conservatives oppose.
Raising the Debt Limit and Passing a Spending Plan
September wouldn’t be September in Washington without some spending fights before the fiscal year closes at the end of the month. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has asked lawmakers to raise the government’s statutory borrowing authority by Sept. 29; look for House conservatives to demand that any debt-limit increase be paired with spending cuts. And lawmakers must pass a so-called “continuing resolution” funding the federal government by Oct. 1, or risk a government shutdown — political suicide now that victims of Hurricane Harvey are depending on a functioning government for help.
Passing a Defense Bill
Among the Senate’s first orders of business will be to take up the National Defense Authorization Act, a huge bill that sets defense policy and spending levels. Among the possible sticking points this year: a fight over whether transgender people who are already members of the military can continue to serve.
Rewriting the Tax Code
Rewriting the tax code – and passing big tax cuts – are high on President Trump’s list of priorities, especially since Congress failed to deliver on its promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act. To tackle taxes, lawmakers must first adopt a budget resolution, which will contain special parliamentary instructions required for the Senate to consider and pass a tax overhaul by a simple majority, as opposed to the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
Shielding the ‘Dreamers’
President Trump on Tuesday announced his intention to end President Barack Obama’s program shielding young illegal immigrants — so-called dreamers — from deportation. In doing so, he called on members of Congress to pass a legislative solution to replace the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that would settle the legal status of the roughly 800,000 dreamers. But it is a challenge that Congress has failed at again and again over the past 16 years.
Funding Children’s Health Care
The Children’s Health Insurance Program provides coverage for nearly 9 million children in low- and moderate-income families at a cost of about $15 billion a year. But funding for the program is set to expire Sept. 30, and Congress must renew it. That renewal could provide a vehicle for legislation to help stabilize the individual insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, which have grown shaky as insurers have pulled out and premiums have risen.
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