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January 2, 2018

What Issues Will Congress Focus On In The First Quarter Of 2018?

The U.S. House and Senate come back into session this week to begin the second session of the 115th Congress. Over the next three months, policymakers will focus on budget and spending issues, immigration, and building support for a major infrastructure bill.

After it returns tomorrow, the Senate will spend much of this week considering executive branch and judicial nominations. Both chambers also will have to turn their attention to completing the fiscal year 2018 appropriations process, passing a disaster aid bill, and negotiating a two-year budget deal to avoid automatic spending cuts. Before recessing last month, lawmakers passed a short-term funding bill that will keep the government open until Jan. 19. Leaders are now hoping they can pass a longer-term piece of legislation that will carry them through the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2018). Congress will likely consider a plan to increase the federal debt limit as part of their deliberations on a spending plan.

Over the next several weeks, lawmakers also must decide whether to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a permanent program. DACA, a program created in 2012 that allows young undocumented immigrants authorization for two years if they are working, going to school, or serving in the military, expires on March 6, 2018. President Donald Trump has indicated he wants Congress to replace the program, but he also wants lawmakers to agree to reduce legal immigration and to add spending for border fence in exchange for his support.

Also coming up: President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 30. Based on multiple news reports, it appears that, in his remarks, the president will focus on building support for a massive plan to rebuild American infrastructure. He is likely to also focus on regulation, immigration, and trade (the sixth round of North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation discussions will happen this month) in his speech.

2018 is an election year—every member of the House will be up for reelection in November in addition to one-third of the members of the Senate—so in the second quarter politics will begin to distract lawmakers and make all of these negotiations more perilous, especially as the year wears on.