Divided Congress could lead to shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — An early December government shutdown is a real possibility, since a divided Congress can’t agree on military spending, Democrats insist on help for young immigrants and President Donald Trump’s position can change with each lawmaker he talks to.

Most of Washington is focused on overhauling the nation’s tax code, but lawmakers face a combustible mix of must-do and could-do items, with the current government spending bill set to expire Dec. 8. On the list are immigration and a U.S.-Mexico border wall; an impasse over children’s health care; pent-up demand for budget increases for the Pentagon and domestic agencies; and tens of billions of dollars in hurricane aid.

Here’s a rundown of non-tax issues facing Congress and Trump:

SPENDING

Ideally, top leaders in both parties would like to agree on new spending levels and pass a catchall bill by the Dec. 8 deadline. That’s looking increasingly unlikely. Another temporary funding bill would be needed to avert a government shutdown, but many Democrats say they won’t be able to support any measure that doesn’t include help for so-called “Dreamer” immigrants facing deportation. That increases the odds of a shutdown.

Congressional leaders are conducting secret talks on raising the spending levels and say they are optimistic of a deal. But there’s no sign of one yet. A possible agreement could add perhaps $100 billion to the budget for the current year alone, which is sure to cause sticker shock among the GOP’s fiscal conservatives. Trump’s demands for the border wall — a nonstarter with Democrats — could spark a shutdown battle.

Then there’s aid to areas devastated by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

IMMIGRATION

Trump announced in September the is ending temporary deportation protections granted by the Obama administration to young immigrants known as “Dreamers” who were illegally brought into the U.S. and often have known no other home. But he gave Congress until March to come up with a fix and promised top Democratic leaders he would sign legislation protecting them, so long as he wins billions for border security.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Senate Democrats, such as California Sen. Kamala Harris, are demanding the immigration issue be addressed as soon as possible and won’t vote for any spending bill that fails to include a solution. That could doom the spending bill as Republicans need Democratic votes to pass the measure.

CHILDREN’S HEALTH

The reauthorization of an expired children’s health program is becoming more urgent as the lapse in the program will mean a cutoff in services in Arizona, California, Minnesota, Ohio and other states by late December or January.

There’s a bipartisan desire to extend the program, but negotiations over how to pay for the measure have yet to produce a breakthrough. A compromise ultimately appears likely, and the measure is a candidate to be coupled with other items in December.

DEFENSE

House and Senate negotiators are putting the final touches on an annual defense policy bill for the 2018 fiscal year that’s expected to increase the Pentagon’s core budget by billions of dollars more than the $603 billion Trump requested.

There’s some urgency to the talks since Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer.

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