From Bipartisan Agreements to Leadership Shake-Ups, the Senate Is Bracing For a Wild 2018

Jan. 3 is the Senate’s first day back to the Hill and, after a whirlwind close of 2017, our elected officials shouldn’t anticipate an easy return. A full roster of issues need immediate attention, but there are two very notable things that will require loads of effort and patience in order to sort out: the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) needs to be stabilized, and the expiration date on DACA is rapidly approaching.

CHIP, which is an effort to offer low-income kids health care, has been in the crosshairs of the healthcare debate as Republicans have used the program as a bargaining chip to shut down the Affordable Care Act. DACA protects children who were illegally brought into the United States by offering legal statuses to the vulnerable population. While President Trump has made it known that compromising on this issue only comes with border wall funding, agreeing on DACA may keep both Democrats and Republicans locked down, unable to reach a consensus.

It will take bipartisan cooperation to reach agreements on these contested issues that, if handled poorly, could lead to the perpetually looming government shutdown as funding wanes. The latest government funding stopgap is set to expire on Jan. 19. A shutdown does seem unlikely but, as The Washington Post observes, the Republican government has shrugged off handling finances since September, pushing off negotiating a spending bill three times over instead of reaching bipartisan compromise.

In addition to settling major issues that could stall government spending, there have also been a couple of high-profile congressional staff shake-ups that are sure to inspire some drama. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch announced his retirement, and while the longest-seated Republican Senator was reportedly begged by President Trump to run for office again, it turns out that posturing was a result of staunchly anti-Trump former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney being expected to run for his now-available seat. To put it nicely, Romney’s introduction back to the Hill would likely inspire a lot of inter-party tension related to Trump’s politics.

Relatedly, Minnesota Senator Al Franken’s vacant seat as a result of his December resignation due to sexual misconduct allegations might shift from Democratic to Republican hands as former conservative congresswoman Michele Bachmann is considering a run. The only thing standing in the way of this anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-environment Senate candidate? She’s waiting for God to tell her what to do.

And then there’s Alabama newcomer Doug Jones, who has already done something unprecedented in the time since his election: he’s hired former Department Of Transportation Assistant Secretary for Governmental Affairs Dana Gresham as his Chief of Staff. This is making headlines because Gresham is African American and Jones’ appointment makes him the only Democratic Senator to have done this (whereas two Republican Senators also have African American Chiefs of Staff). The move comes after urgings by organizations like the NAACP for Jones to appoint persons of color to high-level positions in his staff, to boost diversity in the Senate.

The Senate may just dusting off postholiday debris from their desks, but they clearly have a lot to look out for this year. From early agreements on divisive issues to seat shake-ups, 2018 is poised to be an interesting year for politics and we’ve yet to get into the swing of midterm election campaigning.