WASHINGTON – Lawmakers will be in session for one last week before the 118th Congress is seated Jan. 3.
With the clock winding down, current members are making an eleventh hour effort to push through a a roughly $1.7 trillion Fiscal 2023 spending bill that would expand domestic and defense programs.
If they can't, Congress will have to pass another temporary spending bill to avert a partial shutdown before the holidays.
On the sidelines, some Democrats are pushing for their own legislative priorities to be included in the broad "omnibus" spending bill, seeking to make use of the last few days they have majority control of both chambers – and the White House – before Republicans take the House in January.
On the Democratic Christmas wish list: return of the expanded child tax credit, immigration reform and more.
Government funding is a must-pass
Congress has until the end of Friday to approve a full-year spending agreement – or at least a temporary one that has no funding increases – to avert a government shutdown. Facing a similar deadline Friday, lawmakers approved a temporary stopgap measure to give negotiators an extra week to reach an agreement.
Republicans and Democrats had remained tens of billions of dollars apart throughout negotiations, but Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that he "reached a bipartisan, bicameral framework" with ranking Republican member, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
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A lawmaker to watch in these budget negotiations is Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. If Democrats can't reach a deal with the Kentucky Republican before the end of the year, they would have to negotiate with Republicans who will be in charge of the House.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer may find an easier path through McConnell than through House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who is leading a more fractious caucus and one with a far-right wing making demands to oppose Democratic initiatives in exchange for their votes in the speaker's race.
Democrats will need at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate to defeat a filibuster and pass the spending plan.
National security officials have been sending letters and meeting with House and Senate leaders, urging them to pass a bipartisan spending bill, rather than a yearlong extension of a measure that would keep government funding at current levels.
Anything short of that would weaken national security, competitiveness with China and would harm veterans, they've written in letters to lawmakers.
House committee to discuss Trump tax returns
The House Ways and Means Committee is set to discuss former President Donald Trump's personal tax returns in a private meeting after a long-running legal battle between the committee and Trump who attempted to block the committee from obtaining the returns.
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Trump broke tradition in 2016 when he refused to voluntarily release his tax returns, claiming they were under audit. Since then, Democrats have worked to obtain those documents through multiple court battles before the Supreme Court blocked Trump's request to deny the committee access.
When Republicans gain control of the House on Jan. 3 and end up taking control of the committee, it is unlikely they will investigate the former president's tax returns, meaning this week is Democrats' last chance of releasing them to the public.
Bringing back the expanded child tax credit
Some Democrats are pushing to revive the expanded child tax credit originally passed under the American Rescue Plan, the COVID-19 stimulus bill signed by President Joe Biden in his first few months of office.
The credit delivered up to $3,600 per child to millions of families and included families who were previously ineligible because they earned too little or no income. After the benefits were passed, child poverty was cut in half according to Census Bureau data.
Those benefits later expired at the end of 2021, much to the dismay of Democrats who have hailed the historic program.
“These tax cuts have made such a difference in families’ lives. They must continue,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in a recent news conference. Brown and a coalition of other Democratic senators are pushing to include the expanded credit in the government spending bill.
Brown and other Democratic supporters are attempting to leverage Republican’s desire to include corporate tax breaks in the spending bill, saying one can’t be included without the other.
“It’s pretty simple: no corporate tax cuts without tax cuts for working families,” Brown said.
But with so many other priorities on the plate and the GOP’s reluctance to start the benefits back up without additional work requirements, few expected the child tax credit to get through before year's end.
“Frankly and candidly, discussions are not proceeding quickly,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters about the credit on Tuesday.
Reforms to the certification of electors
A sizable portion of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are hoping to include legislation in the spending bill to clear up ambiguity in the certification of electors – the same ambiguity that Trump and his allies attempted to exploit to overturn the 2020 election and Biden’s victory.
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The bill, titled the Electoral Count Reform Act, makes clear the vice president's role in the certification of electors is entirely ceremonial and also removes ambiguity from the process.
Schumer said Tuesday that he expects to see the reforms included in the omnibus spending package. McConnell has also expressed support for the reforms.
While the reforms have broad support in Congress, some members in the House are pushing for their own version that they say goes further to prevent another insurrection.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., introduced in the House in September the Presidential Election Reform Act, which is largely similar to the Senate bill with some exceptions, such as a higher threshold for members of Congress to object to the certification of electors.
Continued aid to Ukraine
With Republicans set to take control of the House at the start of January, Democrats are working to secure additional funding for Ukraine after McCarthy suggested he would limit or halt funding if he becomes speaker
The White House requested an additional $37.7 billion in funding, which Hoyer has said he expects to be included in the omnibus package.
On the Senate side, Republicans have been more supportive of additional aid to Ukraine which could signal a future point of disagreement between House and Senate Republicans.
McConnell has on multiple occasions called for continued economic and military aid, saying it “is the popular mainstream view that stretches across the ideological spectrum,” on the Senate floor Tuesday.
Last-minute immigration reform
With only a week left in the lame duck session, it’s unlikely that any other legislation besides the omnibus can get through both the House and Senate before lawmakers head home for the holidays.
Some Democrats however, are urging someimmigration reform that would be a non-starter for Republicans when they take the House.
One priority is legislation to provide a path to citizenship for the more than 2 million individuals brought to the United States as children illegally, a group commonly called "Dreamers," based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., put forward a bipartisan framework for immigration reform that includes provisions for "Dreamers." But with little time remaining, it is highly doubtful the Senate can bring it up for a vote.
Some lawmakers are urging for individual votes on key priorities. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., implored the Senate to “take a vote immediately” on a stand-alone proposal for a path to citizenship for "Dreamers."
Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Congress races to fund the government before Christmas: What to expect