2018 will be a big year for Congress, with a full agenda to complete and the 2018 midterms looming over every legislator’s head, even if they aren’t up for reelection or are retiring from Congress this year. Even with a full congressional agenda and individual legislators having their personal agendas, there are definitely some basic things Congress needs to move to the top of the agenda and not dawdle on doing.
Pass Long-Term Spending Bill
In December, Congress avoided a government shutdown by passing a short-term spending bill that will fund the government until Jan. 19. To avoid a government shutdown on that day due to lack of funds, Congress needs to pass another bill to further fund the government and avoid a government shutdown.
Passing a spending bill to continue to fund the government should be relatively drama-free, but there is always a chance there might be disagreements between the Democratic and Republican Party about how to go about passing a spending bill. Specifically, there could be issues in terms of what compromises need to be made on either side of the aisle for each party to support a spending bill.
The issue of essentially legalizing President Obama’s executive order concerning Dreamers has been a source of contention and a virtual tug-of-war between the Republicans and the Democrats. President Trump has explicitly expressed his position on this issue in multiple tweets, but most recently in a Dec. 29 tweet advocating for stricter immigration measures such as the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and the end of chain migration and the lottery program in exchange for a DACA fix.
President Trump also went to Twitter on Jan. 2 to blame Democrats for a lack of action regarding DACA.
While a DACA fix is on the agenda for Congress, Dreamers have until March 5 before permits begin expiring, though current permits will be honored until their individual expiration date.
There is an existing DACA bill, the Dream Act, sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC), but the Senate has yet to vote on it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would be willing to hold a vote on immigration legislation before the end of January, which includes the Dream Act, but only if a compromise can be reached.
Ban Bump Stocks
Bump stocks, which came under the microscope after the Las Vegas shooting for allowing semi-automatic weapons to essentially be turned into automatic weapons, still haven’t been dealt with legislatively. Congress has yet to pass a law banning them and while the Trump Department of Justice has begun to re-interpret the rules regarding bump stocks, there hasn’t been any concrete progress in making bump stocks illegal or making it harder to purchase bump stocks.
Regardless of a legislator’s position on gun control, there should be widespread agreement on banning these things and more proactive efforts to pass relevant legislation should be made. Instead, it seems that legislators and the American public are letting the issue of bump stocks and why they need to be banned fade from their memory as new issues arise.
Reauthorize CHIP Funding
While CHIP is funded through March, that doesn’t stop states from freezing its enrollment or completely shutting it down without a longer-term funding solution. When CHIP funding originally lapsed on Sept. 30, it was the focus on the tax bill that pushed the issue of reauthorization to the back burner. This time around, Congress needs to not let anything bad happen to CHIP and pass a long-term funding bill.
CHIP is hugely important as it provides health insurance for children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid. Statistically speaking, by 2016, 9.2 million children were enrolled in CHIP and only 3.8 million children lived without insurance.
Natural Disaster Aid
Natural disasters were terrible in 2017, most notably with the fires that raged (and are still raging) in California and the hurricanes that affected Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. And the effects of these natural disasters are still being felt now, with half of Puerto Rico without power, Harvey victims living in still-damaged homes, Florida still recovering after Irma and over 10,000 structures destroyed by fires in California.
At the end of 2017, after voting to avoid a government shutdown, the House of Representatives passed an $81 billion disaster aid package that would provide resources to all the places affected by natural disasters. The Senate has yet to vote on this bill but it’s become increasingly more important that this aid package passes as these areas are still feeling the effects of their respective disasters.
The 2018 midterms are a heavy cloud looming over Congress and particularly the Republican Party as margins are close in terms of control of both chambers of Congress; 51-49 in the Senate and 239-193 and 3 vacancies in the House of Representatives. In special elections and the elections in 2017, there has been a renewed effort by the Democratic Party to capitalize on Trump’s low approval ratings (currently at 39 percent). The wins experienced in 2017 in Virginia, New Jersey and most recently Alabama has bolstered Democrats and a “blue wave” is, while maybe not completely expected, would not be surprising in November.
If either chamber of Congress flips, both chambers are currently controlled by Republicans, you can most certainly expect the number and depth of congressional investigations to increase. Additionally, if Republicans lose the House, there is a significant chance that Democrats could begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump. According to Politico, White House aides are already feeling anxious about 2018.
Another thing that could come about either chamber flipping is the halt of any progress in terms of Trump’s legislative agenda. While under a unified government, though, there hasn’t been a remarkable amount of legislative victories for Trump, the biggest one being the recent passage of the tax bill. Still, if either or both chambers flip, it essentially ensures that nothing on Trump’s legislative agenda will be passed.
Whether or not the 2018 midterms will be a Democratic wave of wins is still to be determined. And whatever happens politically between now and November may influence the midterms in ways we can’t see just yet. But no matter how they turn out, they are massively important and I suspect the voter turnout for the midterms will be higher than midterms past.