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Facing a daunting to-do list, Congress returns to work

I don't mean to ruin anyone's day, but now seems like a good time to point out that the next deadline for a possible government shutdown is next week.
The Capitol building at dusk.
The Capitol building at dusk.

Members of the House and Senate will be back at work today, following their holiday break, and as they return to their offices, federal lawmakers face some daunting deadlines.

Indeed, I don't mean to ruin anyone's day, but now seems like a good time to point out that the next deadline for a possible government shutdown is next week, and it's entirely possible officials will not work out a deal in time. Vox had a good piece on this last week:

Now they're back, and there's a lot of work to do, likely all by January 19 -- when Congress must pass a federal spending bill to prevent the government from shutting down. [...]If Democrats stay united, Republicans, who need at least [nine] Democrats in the Senate to meet the 60-vote threshold required to pass a spending bill, will have to make some serious compromises to get a final spending bill through.

During the last two major legislative fights -- health care and taxes -- Republicans used the budget-reconciliation process to circumvent filibuster rules. There wasn't much of anything Democrats could do to slow down the bills, other than to shine a light on the GOP plans in order to make them unpopular. (That worked.)

But to pass a spending package to keep the government's lights on, it's a very different story: in the Senate, the bill will need at least 60 votes to overcome the Dems' procedural hurdles, and in a 51-49 chamber, that will require Republicans to make some concessions.

Such as? Well, congressional Dems have more than a few priorities, but the party is clearly determined to work out an agreement on a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy to protect Dreamers. Donald Trump said over the weekend that he supports a DACA deal -- indeed, he said the entire Republican leadership agrees -- though he'll insist on funding for a border wall first.

The likelihood of Democrats accepting these terms is roughly zero. Complicating matters, if the White House and Senate Republicans give in, and accept a DACA deal to prevent a shutdown, it's possible House Republicans will balk.

What's more, it's not the only area of concern.

Congress will also have to act fairly quickly on extending the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), dealing with defense budget caps, debating the government's FISA powers, tackling health care measures including the bipartisan Alexander-Murray bill, and the Senate still needs to approve a disaster-relief package the House passed last month.

And did I mention that there's another debt-ceiling deadline coming up? Because there is.

For what it's worth, officials from both parties held negotiations last week, and while they didn't come to any agreements, there's still time to work something out.

We just don't know if -- or how -- that will happen.

Another possible wrinkle to keep in mind is that Donald Trump's State of the Union address is scheduled for Jan. 30. Would everyone stick to that schedule if there's a government shutdown? I don't know, but it would be interesting.