What to expect when Congress gets back in January

Congress will have a full plate when it gets back to DC. The Senate is expected to return on January 3, and the House is expected to return January 8. In addition to seating Doug Jones, they will immediately need to turn again to funding the government. New issues, like “welfare reform” and infrastructure will start to emerge as well. Here’s what we know will happen and what could happen.

What will happen:

Congress will have to fund the government again.

Congress kicked the can of funding the government down the road by less than a month, until January 19. That means that the issue of keeping the lights on will be one of the first orders of business, along with other issues that have come to be wrapped up in government funding, like CHIP, surveillance, and disaster aid.

Democrats have another chance to do the right thing on Dream.

Even though using their considerable leverage on the funding bill to protect Dreamers was Senator Schumer’s idea, too many Democrats let that opportunity pass them by when the moment came. (Find out whether your Democratic Senator was a Dream Hero or a Dream Killer here.) With an average of 122 Dreamers losing their protection from deportation everyday, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi must follow through on using their leverage on funding the government as they promised they would to stand with Dreamers.

Trump will unveil an “infrastructure plan.”

Trump and Mitch McConnell have both said they intend to move to infrastructure early in the new year. We expect an announcement of some kind of “plan” (probably no more than a page or two of broad concepts) the week of January 15. What we know, based on earlier proposals, is that Trump’s infrastructure plan is intended to line the pockets of private companies at the expense of local governments and their own priorities. Trump plans to induce state and local governments into raising revenue for infrastructure projects by selling off assets (read: privatizing them) or cutting other critical programs by offering some federal funding. That will cost the taxpayer twice: once when the government subsidizes private investment in projects through tax credits, and again through the tolls that private companies put in place to pay back their investment. You can read more about a Trump infrastructure plan released earlier this year here, and how Trump’s own budget is bad for infrastructure here.

The issue of surveillance and privacy will continue to loom.

When Congress passed a short-term funding bill, they also passed a short-term extension for Trump’s warrantless surveillance authority. It will expire in mid-January, and it will be time for Congress to finally make a real decision—will they issue real reforms and protect Americans’ privacy against Trump? Or will they just continue—or worse, expand—the administration’s unconstitutional spying powers? Click here for more information on what’s at stake.

What could happen:

Trump could take us closer to war with Iran.

When Trump decided not to re-certify the nuclear deal with Iran in October 2017, Congress had the chance to vote to weaken or end the deal itself. Trump threatened to unilaterally throttle the deal next time he got the chance, if Congress didn’t act. Congress didn’t act, and now Trump has another deadline in January where he could break the deal and take us closer to war with Iran. Click here to catch up on Congress’ role in the fate of the Iran deal.

The House could start the fight over benefit cuts.

The GOP Tax Scam signed into law on December 22 adds $1.4 trillion to the deficit. And now, Republicans in the House—led by Paul Ryan himself—are gearing up to pay for those tax cuts by cutting Medicaid, Medicare, food assistance, affordable housing, and other programs families rely on. Although Mitch McConnell said this is not a priority in the Senate, the appetite for this among extreme Republicans in the House is strong. They may even use the FY19 budget reconciliation process and try to pressure the Senate to take it up. Lavishing huge tax cuts on corporations, the wealthy, and themselves was only Step One in the Republican fiscal agenda. Cutting benefits is Step Two.

Trump’s cabinet might see a shakeup.

There have been rumors that Secretary of State Tillerson could leave the administration next year—which means that his position will need to be filled. Those who oversee our foreign policy and national security agencies have tremendous power to either implement or resist the Trump agenda of war and fear-mongering. If Trump tries to fill open cabinet positions with those who would rubber-stamp his agenda, we’ll be ready to oppose.

Democrats could force a vote to restore net neutrality.

The Congressional Review Act, passed in 1996, is a law that allows Congress to undo any regulation that an agency (like the FCC) has recently finalized by passing a “resolution of disapproval.” Under the CRA, the minority party in the Senate can force floor consideration of a “resolution of disapproval.” That means Democrats don’t need Mitch McConnell to bring this to the floor, which is highly unusual. (In the House, Democrats would have to persuade 24 of their Republican colleagues to sign onto a discharge petition, to force a vote on the House floor on the resolution of disapproval.) Once the FCC formally submits the rule to both chambers of Congress and to the federal register (which will happen sometime in the New Year), it will start a 60-day countdown for both the House and Senate to pass the resolution of disapproval, which would go to Trump’s desk for signature. Were he to veto it, a ⅔ majority in both chambers would be needed to override the veto. This is an uphill battle, but it is the only legislative avenue currently available to restore net neutrality.