With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and Christmas fast approaching, this is a stressful time of year for many Americans – and this year, members of Congress are no exception.

Except for them it’s yet another crisis of their own making. Earlier this year, Trump worked with Democrats to punt a solution on government funding, and the far end of that trajectory is rapidly approaching: if Congress doesn’t pass a spending plan by Dec. 8 (or give itself an extension), there will be a government shutdown. Of course, given their inability to get things done, Congress is nowhere near a solution – so they’ll have to give themselves another extension of some kind.

As was entirely predictable, by extending the deadline in the fall Republicans in Congress have only made their own jobs harder. Not only is disaster relief still an issue, with Hurricane Irma and Western wildfires causing extensive damage, but a variety of programs are facing looming funding and re-authorization deadlines, like the Children’s Health Insurance Program. With a number of states and territories needing major assistance, some deal is again likely to be struck on disaster relief, firmly putting that aid package in the category of must-pass legislation.

It seems almost certain that this time, Democrats will not settle for merely getting the timing right, as they did in the fall. A top priority for them is renewing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which spares young immigrants brought here illegally by their parents from deportation. As a candidate, Trump promised to end DACA, but when he followed through as president he delayed implementation of the repeal by six months, giving Congress time to find a legislative solution. That deadline doesn’t come up until March, but if they really want to save it, Democrats have every reason to force a solution with one of these must-pass bills.

The question for Democrats – and it is not an idle one for the thousands who might face deportation without a solution – is where DACA ranks on their priorities. They didn’t move quickly on any kind of immigration reform for the two years when they had Congress and the White House. Instead, they passed Obamacare and promptly lost the majority. Though one might think that Democrats had learned their lesson from that experience, immigration seems to be one of those issues that both parties consider too valuable in campaigns to actually address once they’re in office. When politicians do attempt to address the issue in a broad way, as Sen. Marco Rubio did, their efforts usually fail and they end up paying a political price for it. DACA by itself might be a simpler issue to fix, but if history is any guide, that doesn’t mean Congress will actually make any progress on a solution.

The rare opportunity for the minority party in Congress to actually exert influence may tempt Democrats to create a Christmas list of items to present to Republicans. Just as Senate Republicans included a repeal of the individual insurance mandate in their tax reform bill, Democrats may face intense pressure to load up any budget deal with a wide variety of demands. This approach can be effective, as it could allow Democrats room to negotiate down to the few items that they truly consider vital.


They may want to take action to restore subsidies for health insurance companies recently cut by the Trump administration, as well as other steps to shore up Obamacare – even as Republicans keep trying to repeal it. There could well be efforts to save other regulations that Trump has already announced plans to repeal or is considering repealing, like net neutrality, media ownership rules, financial regulations, environmental rules and more. Though he hasn’t been quite as aggressive as he promised during the campaign, Trump is repealing, halting and rewriting a whole host of rules and regulations issued by the previous administration.

There is a real risk to this strategy for Democrats, however: If they go in with too long a list of demands, talks might go nowhere and they could walk away with few or no gains. Neither side really wants a government shutdown, especially near the holidays, and that gives both sides leverage. The question is not truly whether a deal will be struck that averts a shutdown, but what shape the deal will take and which party will benefit more from it. These next few weeks of negotiations could have enormous impact on not just the midterms, but the next several elections as well.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jimfossel

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