Congress is knee deep in its month of legislative hell. Lawmakers have not one but five must-pass bills they have to get signed by President Trump by the end of the month. Lawmakers moved quickly to pass a short-term budget and raise the debt ceiling so the government wouldn't shut down or default on its debts. But it was only a short-term fix, and they'll have to revisit both those in December. They also prioritized an urgent, historically expensive aid bill for one hurricane, but another is barrelling straight toward Florida. Oh, and the president just dared them to pass an immigration bill before 800,000 young immigrants risk being deported.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) trial begins
Ala. GOP Senate runoff election
Lawmakers ducked shutdown and debt ceiling drama in September, but failure to get the rest of their to-do list done carries risks. Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, so they risk looking seriously incompetent if they can't, say, reauthorize a popular children's health insurance program. Speaking of politics, there are a number of events happening outside Congress that could make compromise inside even more difficult than it already is. Here's a look at all the legislative and political deadlines coming up this month alone.
[Can Trump actually shut down the government over wall funding?]
Around Sept. 20
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned that the U.S. could run out of money as soon as the first week of September to pay its bills, especially with a Hurricane Harvey recovery fund in the works. He asked Congress to let him issue more debt to get more cash. (The U.S. spends more than it takes in, and it sells debt to investors to make up the difference.) Trump struck a deal with congressional Democrats to raise the debt ceiling for just three months, and then push to get rid of it entirely, overriding Republicans' plan to raise the debt ceiling through November 2018. When Congress revisits the debt ceiling in December, Republicans may need Democrats' help again, since fiscally conservative Republicans are hesitant to approve something that could force the U.S. further into debt without cutting spending elsewhere.
One of Congress's most basic functions is to fund the government every year. The next fiscal year starts Oct. 1, which means lawmakers had until midnight Sept. 30 to pass a spending bill, or at the very least, extend last year's budget for a few more months. They decided on the latter, pushing the debate to fund the government to December. Then, as now, the complicating factor will be Trump
. Trump has threatened to shut down the government to get money for his border wall, but the White House promised lawmakers
he'll back off this time. That means Trump has backed down twice from getting money for his wall. When Congress revisits the budget in December, will he again?
Republicans' health-care legislative tool expires
Republicans were able to vote on an Obamacare repeal without any Democratic votes thanks to a little-known budget act known as reconciliation
, which lets Senate Republicans avoid a Democratic filibuster so long as the legislation is tied to federal spending. But that tool expires with a new fiscal year. In the next fiscal year, Republicans have to make a decision: They can use the next budget debate to either pass tax reform without any Democratic votes, or they can try to repeal Obamacare again.
Renew CHIP funding
Another must-funder on Congress's list is the Children's Health Insurance Program, a 20-year-old federal and state program that provides health insurance for about 9 million lower-income children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Congress has to act by the end of the month to keep the majority of the program funded, but lawmakers on both sides could use this debate to try to enact health care policy they failed to get in this spring's Obamacare debate.
Renew National Flood Insurance Program
This program will take on new significance in the aftermath of catastrophic flooding in Texas and Louisiana. Since the late '60s, the federal government has operated a national flood insurance program to ease demand on a small private market. About 5 million homes have flood insurance through the government, but the program is more than $20 billion in debt and criticized on both sides for inefficiencies.
Renew the Federal Aviation Administration
Congress also has to reauthorize the agency that regulates all civil aviation, including air traffic controllers, by the end of the month. President Trump wants to use this opportunity to make major reforms by privatizing air traffic control. A bill to do that passed a House committee in June, but the House has yet to vote on it, and the Senate looks like it has no appetite to make this massive, potentially expensive change.
Other legislative priorities
No hard deadline
Hurricane Harvey aid
Hurricane Harvey dumped more rain than any other storm in U.S. history on South Texas and Louisiana, and cleaning up the resulting catastrophic, mind-boggling flooding it caused will likely come with a mind-boggling price tag. Congress approved a $15.25 billion aid package its first week back, but first responders say much more will be needed in the months to come.
No hard deadline
Hurricane Irma aid
Another massive hurricane is headed straight for Florida. Some of the billions Congress approved for Harvey is expected to be divvied up for disaster relief in Florida. But if Irma is as bad as weather forecasters say it could be, Florida could need billions more money from Congress.
No hard deadline
Trump is tossing the political hot potato of protecting dreamers over to Congress, and he's setting a countdown clock to its combustion. On Congress's first day back, Trump is expected to announce
he will end President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that protects young adults brought to the country illegally from deportation. Trump's plan is to let DACA expire in six months and give Congress a chance to pass a law, if it wants, protecting these so-called dreamers. Republican leaders say they'd like to protect these immigrants, but immigration watchers are skeptical Congress can pass such a divisive law in time. Either way, this debate will take up significant energy and time in Congress.
Sept. 6 & 7
Senate health care hearings
Think Congress has moved on from health care? Think again. Its first week back, the Senate's GOP-controlled health committee heard governors and state insurance commissioners on how to stabilize premiums amid all the uncertainty Congress has given insurance companies over the past few years. No major legislative changes are on the table, but these hearings could rev up the repeal debate and complicate any number of deadlines above.
No hard deadline
Executive and judicial branch confirmations
Trump's government is historically understaffed
, in part because of his slow rate of nominating people. The Senate is trying to help out by confirming the judges, ambassadors and other administration officials he has nominated. But the Senate doesn't do anything quickly, so this will take up precious time.
Last day for insurers to join marketplaces
This isn't a deadline Congress has to act on, but it's one lawmakers will be closely watching. Since Obamacare is still the law of the land, insurers will decide whether to participate in federal- and state-run exchanges that people who don't get insurance through their employers or the government rely on. Trump could blow up the marketplaces
by deciding not to pay subsidies to insurers that lower-income people rely on to cover their out-of-pocket costs.
Complicating political events
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) trial begins
A high-ranking Senate Democrat is on trial for corruption. The Newark trial will reverberate in Washington two ways: (1) by drawing attention away from Congress's agenda and (2)if he's convicted, by starting a battle on whether Menendez should resign and let a Republican governor choose his predecessor. Some major Senate votes have been decided by one vote (see: Republicans' failure to repeal Obamacare), so the potential for Republicans to have one more senator could make a huge difference
in Trump's agenda.
Donald Trump Jr. testifies to Congress
Congress's parallel investigation into Russia meddling in the U.S. election and whether the Trump campaign had anything to do with it takes a big step forward in September. On Thursday, Donald Trump Jr. testified behind closed doors
to the Senate Judiciary Committee about a meeting he had last year with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, one that some legal experts said met the definition of collusion. It's not immediately clear whether congressional investigators were satisfied, and it's Trump Jr. testifies in public later this fall.
Hillary Clinton’s book release
Save regular bragging from Trump, politicians' rehashing of the 2016 campaign has more or less subsided. But the divisiveness of the 2016 campaign will come raging back this month as Clinton releases her book, "What Happened." One of a zillion potential political fireworks: Clinton calls Trump "a creep." The book leaves little doubt what most of Washington will be talking/fighting about, just two weeks before a potential shutdown and debt ceiling breach.
U.N. General Assembly begins
Smack in the middle of all this, leaders from some 190 countries will come to New York for the annual meeting of the United Nations, with pressing issues like North Korea's rapid nuclear capabilities to debate. Trump will spend several days there.
Alabama Senate GOP runoff
In the Senate race to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an establishment vs. social conservative battle is raging in the GOP primary runoff. Trump, like other Republican leaders in Washington, has endorsed interim Sen. Luther Strange over ousted conservative judge Roy Moore. But there are signs Trump is regretting taking that side
. If Trump backs off his endorsement, he could brew some serious bad blood between him and the politician in charge of much of the deadlines above, Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
We gauged where senators stand in relation to President Trump on a wide range of controversial issues from Comey’s firing to health care.
Moderates were concerned the bill went too far, but conservatives thought it didn’t go far enough.