WASHINGTON – Here we go again. We're about to have another shutdown showdown, sort of.
Now no one here really expects the government to actually shut down again this Friday, when yet another temporary funding bill expires. Republicans, burned by the blame for a 2013 shutdown, and Democrats, burned by the blame for a brief shutdown in January, both have good reasons to strike a deal on a bill funding the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. But you never know.
Perhaps if you pay enough attention to this stuff to read this far you are asking: Didn't we just go through this?
The answer is: yes, but. Congress did indeed agree on a two-year budget deal last month – but, under the phenomenally broken budgeting process that I eviscerated to the best of my journalistic ability here last month, we have to go through this again.
That's because under this really stupid budget process of ours, budget bills merely set the broad outline of federal spending, whereas Congress has to pass a series of appropriations bills to actually set aside the money. But lawmakers rarely agree on those appropriations bills anymore, meaning they instead pass one short-term measure after another until finally agreeing on what's called an "omnibus" – a super-big spending bill in which practically everybody gets what they want, except the budget hawks.
That's what Congress is hammering out now: a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. And as it does so, here are the key issues to watch:
Health care: The omnibus will be lawmakers' last, best chance to stabilize the individual health care market, which has been operating in a state of limbo since last fall, when President Trump blocked subsidies aimed at making health care cheaper for people who have to buy it on their own.
Trump argued that Congress never properly authorized those subsidies, but lawmakers may want to do so now. If they don't, they're sure to see awful headlines such as: "Thanks to Congressional failure, premiums skyrocket on individual insurance plans." And those headlines would appear just as people start planning their health insurance for 2019 – in October 2018, weeks before the November election.
That's why senators on both sides of the aisle are working to get some sort of health care fix included in the budget bill.
The "Dreamers" and the border wall: President Trump and Congress still have not come up with a solution for the "Dreamers," the young undocumented immigrants who came here illegally. And neither Congress nor Mexico have funded Trump's much-coveted wall at the Mexican border.
The omnibus is an opportunity to do both. That's why lawmakers are considering adding provisions to the spending bill that would extend DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – for three years in exchange for three years of wall funding.
Sanctuary cities: While lawmakers edge toward a solution on the Dreamers and the border wall, one other immigration issue – sanctuary cities – could mucky everything up.
Sanctuary cities attempt to provide a safe haven to undocumented immigrants no matter what the immigration hawks in the Trump administration have to say. Fed up with those challenges, the Trump administration wants the omnibus to block federal law enforcement grants from going to sanctuary cities.
That proposal would probably doom the omnibus. After all, there are sanctuary cities in 26 states, and those states have 52 senators, and only 40 are needed to block the omnibus.
Planned Parenthood funding: Another debate that appears to be on permanent rewind – the fight over federal funding for Planned Parenthood – is heating up yet again.
Republicans are demanding that Planned Parenthood funding be eliminated in the omnibus, and once again, Democrats say the spending bill is a no-go if that happens.
The Gateway Tunnel: Perhaps you've never heard of this long-discussed, never-built tunnel between New York and New Jersey, which is aimed to ease congestion on the other routes between Manhattan and the cities and suburbs to the west.
The Gateway Tunnel looked like a done deal until just a few years ago, when then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie withdrew his support for it, citing its cost. Lawmakers from both states are anxious to get the project going again, but one politician stands in the way: President Trump, who hates the big-bucks project so much that he's threatening to veto the omnibus over it.
So stay tuned. Maybe this showdown will end in a shutdown after all.
President Trump makes his first trip to New Hampshire – the first primary state – since his 2016 election. He's scheduled to speak about the opioid crisis ... The Supreme Court hears arguments in an arcane divorce case out of Minnesota ... The Senate takes up a bill on sex trafficking, as well as the nomination of Kevin McAleenan to be commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection ... Filmmaker Michael Moore, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speak at a town hall on inequality, sponsored by the Young Turks, The Guardian, NowThis and Act.tv.
The Washington Post fact-checks President Trump's tweetstorm about the special counsel's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election ... The Atlantic reviews the data-mining of Facebook profiles and ponders the question: Why did it take Facebook so long to notice, and act? ... NBC News reports that Democrats now have a double-digit lead eight months before the November election ... The New York Times notes that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi could be in trouble with Democrats running for the first time this year ... And the Wall Street Journal notes that there's a shortage of new homes.