A showdown in Washington regarding government spending began on Wednesday this week.  Congress has until January 19 to pass a long-term spending bill that funds the government for the next year.January 19 is the deadline now because Congress kicked the can down the road over Christmas, after previously doing so earlier in December.

The four highest-ranking members of Congress and White House Budget Director Mike Mulvaney marked the initial round this week, meeting in the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Budget experts believe both sides have an incentive to work out a deal, particular since Republicans and President Trump are fresh off a landmark tax bill, and Democrats do not necessarily wish to position themselves as obstructionists.

Keeping the government open requires both parties to compromise.  Republicans need Democrats to pass a spending bill, since a sizable block of House Republicans most likely will not vote for it.  The spending  bill requires 60 votes in the Senate meaning the GOP would need at least nine Democrats.  In the Senate, Democrats can filibuster it.

In order to avoid a shutdown, Congress will have to deal with several issues:

The first is trying to fund the government under a strict budget law that automatically cuts spending anytime you break the budget.  Both sides say it is a priority to find a way to lift mandatory spending cuts put in place with the 2011 budget deal. But Republicans are focused on raising the caps for military spending to give President Trump his requested increase of about $100 billion and funding for President Trump’s promised wall on the Mexican border. President Trump has threatened to veto spending bills if they do not include funding to begin construction of a border wall.

Democrats, empowered because the GOP needs them to pass any spending bill,  are demanding a dollar-for-dollar raise on domestic spending, for housing, education, food and job assistance, other social programs, and more spending to combat the opioid crisis.  This could turn off some fiscally inclined Republicans, putting the whole spending bill in jeopardy, causing a shutdown.

Another difficult issue is the fate of the “dreamers.”  Democrats are demanding that the spending bill address the status of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought illegally to this country as children. President Trump ended their Obama-era protections in September, punting the dreamers future to Congress.  President Trump has said he will end the program in March if Congress does not come up with a solution.  GOP leaders want talks about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (or DACA) to proceed separately from the spending talks. Democrats insist all issues must be dealt with together.

In December, Republican and Democratic congressional leaders struck a deal to push the debate on dreamers to 2018.  However, many Democrats believe that this debate has been pushed back long enough, saying now there has to be some kind of immigration deal within or closely tied to the spending bill.

Lawmakers are also working on disaster relief for areas ravaged by hurricanes in 2017.  The House passed an $81 billion funding bill in December, but the Senate did not act on it.

If Congress cannot strike a deal before January 19, the government would shut down, discontinuing all services not deemed essential.