Washington Policy Issues Update For February

February 5, 2018

Déjà vu all over again, again. This month - like the two before - government funding is set to run out, raising fears of another shutdown like the three-day lapse we just saw, reports Pro Budget and Appropriations' Jennifer Scholtes. And once more, congressional leaders have made little negotiating progresssince the last patch. Top dealmakers, still butting heads on immigration issues, appear no closer to a compromise on budget caps for overall defense and non-defense spending. Without those numbers, lawmakers can't allocate funding levels for all the accounts that make up the federal government's more than $1 trillion yearly allocation.

Now staring down a Thursday shutdown deadline, House leaders are hoping to pass a stopgap spending bill this week that would keep the government running through March 22. But defense hawks and fiscal conservatives could tank this latest tide-me-over, and Democrats still plan to withhold support in the absence of a deal to ensure deportation protections for young immigrants.

Even as Congress struggles to clear updated funding levels for fiscal 2018 (already some four months late), the White House is obligated to put out a budget this month for fiscal 2019. Planning to release that blueprint by Feb. 12, the Trump administration has had to blindly write that wish list without a deal on the budget caps that dictate spending limits for the next two years - a reality that will surely make the already nonbinding guidance even less consequential.

At the same time, the Treasury Department has issued fresh warnings that it may be able to tap "extraordinary measures" to pay the nation's debt only through Feb. 28, raising the possibility the government will default if Congress doesn't lift the debt limit. In its latest estimate, the CBO has laid out a slightly rosier forecast, predicting that Treasury will "most likely" run out of cash in the first half of March.

 

EMPLOYMENT & IMMIGRATION

Four-point immigration plan pleases few: President Donald Trump has proposed what he called a "down-the-middle compromise" in his State of the Union address. But prospects are dim that it will be adopted in anything like its present form.

Trump's proposal would provide a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented "DREAMers" brought to the United States as children in exchange for $25 billion for a wall on the southwest border, deep cuts to family-based immigration and elimination of the diversity visa lottery, which awards 50,000 visas each year to people from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. Republican immigration hawks hate the first part, which they consider "amnesty." Democratic immigration doves hate the other three.

Trump created an obstacle for himself by telling congressional negotiators in early January that El Salvador, Haiti and the nations of Africa are "shithole countries" and that he'd prefer to bring in more immigrants from Norway. Since then, Democrats have felt freer to impugn his motives. When the administration put its four-point proposal on the table late last month, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of using DREAMers as leverage "to tear apart our legal immigration system." House Minority LeaderNancy Pelosi said the proposed changes to family-based immigration - estimated to lower legal immigration by 44 percent annually - were part of an "unmistakable campaign to make America white again."

Another obstacle is the consensus among economists that reductions to current levels of legal immigration would constrict economic growth. Democrats know that a majority of the Senate likely agrees with a statement by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): "I want more legal immigration, not less."

Prospects for the four-point plan are even more remote in the House of Representatives. Democrats in that chamber oppose Trump's immigration policies more vigorously than their Senate counterparts, and Democratic support in the House is crucial because a significant portion of House Republicans will never support citizenship for millions of people who crossed the border illegally, even if they were children at the time. To cut a deal on DREAMers, Trump will almost certainly have to appease congressional Democrats by paring back the enforcement parts of his proposal. - Ted Hesson

 

TECHNOLOGY

What's the deal with #ReleaseTheMemo? You may have seen a lot of this hashtag last week, which sparked a furor in Washington over Russian interference in the U.S. political system. Leading Democrats say the social media campaign - in which people posted #ReleaseTheMemo to pressure lawmakers to share a then-classified document alleging FBI misconduct in the probe of a former Trump campaign adviser - was bolstered by Russian bots, or automated accounts. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff , both ranking Intelligence committee Democrats from California, asked Twitter and Facebook to look into the bot activity around the hashtag. They said the companies' initial responses were inadequate and demanded the social media giants redouble efforts to get to the bottom of it. At stake is more than just the latest round of partisan bickering in D.C. Democrats fear that Russian bots, if left unchecked, will spread misinformation and exploit divisive issues in the 2018 midterm elections, just as they did in 2016. - Ashley Gold

Missile alert mess : Congress is scrutinizing Hawaii's false emergency alert warning about an incoming ballistic missile. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will examine the issue at a Feb. 16 FCC oversight hearing, and the Senate Commerce Committee plans a field hearing in Hawaii at a still-to-be-determined date, with the panel's chairman, John Thune (R-S.D.), aiming for testimony from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA briefed committee staff but did not testify at a January hearing, spurring complaints from lawmakers that no one could answer their questions. Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz, meanwhile, has pledged to introduce a bipartisan bill giving the feds a role in the transmission of such alerts in the future. Hawaii authorities say the false alert, which was broadcast and sent to mobile phones and caused a nearly 40-minute panic for millions of people, was the result of human error at the state level. The FCC revealed that the now-fired employee, who sent the alert, thought the missile attack was real, not a drill. - John Hendel

 

FINANCIAL SERVICES

Chipping away at Dodd-Frank: A bipartisan bill that would scale back regulations for small and regional banks is in line for a Senate vote on what could be the first successful effort to scrap key parts of the landmark Dodd-Frank bill enacted after the financial crisis. Lobbyists are working behind the scenes to add provisions, and opponents - mostly progressive Democrats - are trying to rally opposition. The bill, S. 2155 (115) , probably has enough votes from moderate Democrats to make it out of the Senate