KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
2018 is finally starting for members of Congress this week. The Senate was supposed to be in session last week, but that bomb cyclone snowstorm meant not everyone could get back to Washington. So after a delayed start, they pick up their daunting to-do list. And Republican leaders are coming back after a weekend at Camp David with President Trump and White House advisers where they were supposed to be working on their agenda for 2018. To talk about all this, NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is here. Hi there.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi.
MCEVERS: So first things first, before the holiday break, Congress passed a temporary bill to fund the government through the 19th of this month. What do they have to get done, and how do they plan to do it?
SNELL: OK, get ready because...
MCEVERS: OK (laughter).
SNELL: ...It is a really long list (laughter).
MCEVERS: All right.
SNELL: First of all is that spending bill that you mentioned. Yes, they have to find a way to fund the government after January 19, and leaders say they want to get that done by writing a long-term spending plan that increases both domestic spending and military spending. Now, this is kind of a problem because while both sides agree that there should be more military spending, they don't agree on how much more domestic spending there should be.
The second issue that's kind of become intertwined with that spending bill is immigration. So if you remember, President Trump went and revoked DACA, which is the protections for the roughly 700,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally after having been brought here as children. So their protections expire at the end of March. And he - President Trump said that he was leaving it up to Congress to figure out a legislative fix for those people. And lawmakers have been working on that, and they want to combine those protections with a spending bill. Now, that alone would be a lot, right?
MCEVERS: Right, yes.
SNELL: (Laughter) But they also have a lot more they need to do. They need to approve more disaster aid for places like Florida and Texas and Puerto Rico that were hit by hurricanes and places like California and Oregon that had massive wildfires. They also have one more thing to do, and that's a - Children's Health Insurance Program is expiring. It's a pretty bipartisan issue, and they want to do it all in one big bill.
MCEVERS: Right. Spending, immigration, children's health care, disaster relief - what's the thinking of putting all of that into one bill?
SNELL: Well, the idea is that if you put everything in a big bill, there's something for everybody in it. So it's a kind of political risk if you think about it. If you put in things like military spending that conservatives like, they can say, I voted for this bill because it increases military spending. If you put in the protections for the undocumented immigrants, Democrats can say, I secured the protections that we have been talking about for years.
The idea is you make a really big package, and everybody walks away happy. But the gamble is that, you know, if you put in all these things that they're calling poison pills, these things that are kind of politically motivated add-ons that could alienate one side or the other, it's kind of a tricky balance to strike.
MCEVERS: What's the toughest item (laughter) on the list right now? What's the biggest sticking point?
SNELL: Right now it seems to be DACA and protections for those immigrants. We commonly think of them as being DREAMers.
SNELL: They've had dozens of meetings over the past two months, negotiators on both sides in Congress, Democrats and Republicans. They want to come up with some sort of protections for those people, and they say they want them to be permanent protections. The problem is that it has become intertwined with funding for the border wall. And Democrats said they were pretty shocked on Friday when President Trump said that he wanted to have $18 billion over 10 years for the wall.
MCEVERS: What are lawmakers and staffers saying about the chances of a government shutdown in this period?
SNELL: Well, there is a White House meeting tomorrow, and they hope that they will, you know, come up with an agreement. Leaders insist there will be no shutdown, and so we have every reason to believe that they will come up with some solution - just might not be the long-term plan that they're talking about.
MCEVERS: And quickly, what about that 2018 agenda that Republicans talked about with President Trump at Camp David this weekend? Where does that fit in?
SNELL: Well, they still say they want to do some sort of welfare reform. But as the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have said, they need that to be bipartisan, so that's pretty hard. They also want to maybe pass a budget to say how to spend money in 2019. And there are a ton of judicial nominees and other people who need to get approved.
MCEVERS: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell, thank you so much.
SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.