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Big Decisions Await Congress on Immigration

Here are the moving parts in Capitol Hill's high-wire week:

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    Big Decisions Await Congress on Immigration
    Mark Wilson/Getty Images, File
    In this Dec. 19, 2017, file photo, the U.S. Capitol casts an early-morning reflection. The government is financed through Friday, Jan. 19, and another temporary spending bill is needed to prevent a partial government shutdown after that.

    Before a potential government shutdown at midnight Friday night, a host of leftover Washington business is bottled up in Congress, waiting on a deal to prevent the deportation of young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and an agreement on other immigration-related issues, including President Donald Trump's long-sought U.S.-Mexico border wall.

    Lawmakers in both major parties are confronted with a consequential week that includes shutdown brinksmanship linked to politically freighted negotiations over immigration.

    Meanwhile, there are increasingly urgent deadlines for disaster aid and renewal of the popular Children's Health Insurance Program.

    A government-wide spending deal, billions of dollars in help for hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and health care financing for 9 million children from low-income families have been on hold for weeks, caught first in a crossfire over taxes and now held up in a standoff on immigration.

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    Lawmakers are angry that their pet priorities are stuck and are getting fed up. That rank-and-file anger has GOP leaders in a bind as they work to deliver a stopgap spending bill to stave off a shutdown. They are privately worried that if there's no breakthrough on immigration, they could blunder their way into a shutdown that all say they want to avoid.

    Here are the moving parts in Capitol Hill's high-wire week:

    IMMIGRATION
    Trump has dismissed a bipartisan deal by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would pair protections for the young immigrants with border security money and other measures. Instead, Republicans are invested in a rival bipartisan group led by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

    Four issues are the focus of the talks: protection for the young immigrants, limits on family migration for their parents, border security, and elimination of a diversity visa lottery system. But there are huge obstacles to a deal, considering intense political pressure from both the right and the left, Trump's erratic and impulsive behavior, months of hard feelings, and suspicion of bad faith harbored on both sides.

    On the other hand, pressure is intense for an agreement because, without one, much of the rest of Washington's agenda is on hold.

    STOPGAP SPENDING
    The government is financed through Friday, and another temporary spending bill is needed to prevent a partial government shutdown after that. In a shutdown, vital government services like law enforcement and air traffic control would continue, as would benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But national parks would close, and many federal bureaucrats would be sent home.

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    No one says they want a government shutdown, though House Democrats — whose votes may be needed for another stopgap spending bill — opposed two stopgap spending bills last month. House GOP leaders overcame the obstacle then but aren't so sure they can produce the votes now.

    Democrats are demanding real progress on immigration to vote to stave off a shutdown. But what happens if the pressure is really cranked up isn't necessarily clear — either for GOP holdouts or House Democrats. It's more than likely that if a stopgap bill passes the House, it would again glide through the Senate.

    BUDGET CAPS
    Both sides say they want a deal to increase spending caps that limit money for both the military and domestic programs. A 2015 budget agreement negotiated by then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has expired, bringing the return of stringent limits imposed by a 2011 fiscal deal.

    Talks to increase these caps have proceeded behind the scenes toward a two-year deal that could increase spending by more than $200 billion over that span when compared with the legal cap. An agreement could snap into place quickly once immigration is resolved, but GOP defense hawks are increasingly anxious. A caps agreement is a prerequisite for smooth completion of the more than $1.1 trillion budget for annual agency operations.

    DISASTER AID
    An $81 billion disaster aid bill that passed in the House has stalled in the Senate, where leaders have been hoping to add it to other legislation such as the broader budget agreement. Lawmakers from hurricane-slammed states such as Texas and Florida and the territory of Puerto Rico are increasingly anxious over the delays.

    CHILDREN'S HEALTH
    Because of the recently passed GOP tax bill, which eliminates the individual mandate to purchase health insurance in "Obamacare" in 2019, the Congressional Budget Office has found that it doesn't cost money to renew the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

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    It pays for health care for 9 million children from low-income families, and authorization for it expired Oct. 1. States have been limping along on unused funds and prior short-term fixes. Several states are at risk of running out of CHIP money soon, and it's looking as though a multiyear extension of the program may be added to the stopgap funding bill.