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Congress’ latest funding fight, explained

Congress could have made this easy. Facing their self-imposed Feb. 8 deadline to avoid a government shutdown, both parties could have agreed to yet another short-term funding deal to buy more time for a longer-term spending plan and an agreement on immigration.

But conservatives feel that would be one short-term patch, or continuing resolution, too many for the military. And lawmakers are also maneuvering behind the scenes on immigration and spending cuts. Here is the simplest summary we can offer of what has become a fascinating and highly tactical funding battle:

  • House Republicans will pass a spending plan they know Democrats can’t support. That will happen Tuesday. It would include a $35 billion boost in defense spending through the end of September, and fund the rest of government until March 23. Normally such bills are one to three pages long. The House GOP offer is unusually long at 515 pages. Why? It is filled with other wish-list items, many of them bipartisan and intended to jam or pressure the Senate
  • The House bill will be dead on arrival in the Senate, likely Wednesday. Why? Senate Democrats want to protect nondefense spending, as well as defense spending.
  • But Senators may reach a much larger deal of their own, possibly today. They may offer a long-term spending deal to increase both defense and nondefense spending.
  • House conservatives especially would then face a tough choice. Do they accept the Democratic deal, even though it would increase the deficit more than they can stomach?
  • Meanwhile, House Democrats will leave town Wednesday for their annual policy retreat, which is taking place in Cambridge, Maryland, about two hours from Washington, D.C. They’re now planning to trek back for additional spending votes.

What happens next is unclear. But the funding deadline is at 12:01 a.m. Friday. So the government would shut down then if Congress can’t reach a deal.

What about immigration? For now, negotiations on the issue are moving along on a separate track. The Senate is expected to begin debate on immigration next week. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, which has protected young immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, expires March 5.

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