With two weeks until Christmas, the to-do list is a long one for the Congress, as GOP lawmakers try to finish work on a sweeping overhaul of the federal tax code, fund the government into 2018, and look to deal with a number of other contentious issues that have eluded lawmakers and the White House, but it's not clear how much the House and Senate will be able to accomplish before going home for the holidays
"If things don't get done, we are going to have quite a catastrophe," said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), one of many GOP lawmakers who remain confident that Republican leaders will find a way to reach a deal on tax reform.
"I think this is one that we're going to get done," said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA). "There's unanimity in the conference to get this done."
Here is what lies ahead for lawmakers in the Congress:
1. GOP must move quickly to finish tax reform bill. If Republicans are going to get a tax reform bill on the President's desk before Christmas, they don't have much time. Lawmakers certainly don't want to be on Capitol Hill after Friday the 22nd; the first formal meeting of the House-Senate tax reform "conference" committee is on Wednesday, but that's really more for show. Behind the scenes, key GOP lawmakers have already been trying to reach agreements on final language in the bill. If you want a full rundown on the differences between the House and Senate versions, read this comparison from the Joint Committee on Taxation. There have already been a number of stories about mistakes and loopholes in the GOP tax reform plan - we'll see if those get resolved as well. This is no slam dunk, but the odds still favor the GOP.
2. Next stop gap budget runs out on December 22. There isn't enough time to write a full "Omnibus" spending bill (Speaker Ryan said that last week), so the question is more likely how much will Congress get done on funding the operations of the federal government, and how much gets booted into 2018. Republicans have been making noise about approving a funding bill for the military, keeping all other agencies on a temporary budget, and then adding in a bunch of year-end sweeteners to the bill. It's also possible that such a deal could increase the 'budget caps,' allowing for a larger defense budget, and maybe more domestic spending as well. The idea of increasing spending just before the holidays does not sit well with more conservative Republicans. And what about DACA and the immigrant Dreamers? There could be a lot of wheeling and dealing in the days ahead.
3. Will there be more shoes dropping on Capitol Hill? After what was a historic week - where three members announced their resignations due to allegations of sexual misconduct - it's not unreasonable to wonder if more stories will surface in coming days. There's already pressure on Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) to resign - an ethics probe was announced last Friday on Farenthold, who says he will pay back an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement with a former staffer. Over the weekend, reports surfaced about another possible taxpayer payout related to a harassment lawsuit, involving Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL). As a reporter, I cannot stress how unusual last week was on Capitol Hill. If you have one lawmaker announce a resignation, that's a big deal. Two resignations was a major headline. And then a surprise third. One cannot discount the possibilities that more such stories are in the pipeline. Stay tuned.
4. From member of Congress to anti-filibuster PAC? Last Thursday, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) stunned his colleagues by announcing his resignation, effective January 31. But on Friday, he decided to make it effective immediately, citing the hospitalization of his wife, after revelations that he had tried to get female staffers in his office to be a surrogate for his child (not a campaign surrogate). In between those events, a Minnesota television news crew that was in Washington to cover the resignation of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), stumbled into Franks at their hotel, as they overheard the Arizona Republican on the phone soliciting big money donations to start a political action committee that would fight to get rid of the filibuster in the Senate, which Franks, and other more conservative Republicans in the House have been blaming for inaction on the GOP agenda. The news crew that stumbled into that story must still be shaking their heads about their luck.
5. Roy Moore and the Alabama U.S. Senate race. Tuesday is finally Election Day in the Yellowhammer State, and no matter what else is happening in the halls of Congress this week, the outcome of this race will be a big deal. If Moore wins, a lot of GOP Senators won't like the outcome. If Democrat Doug Jones wins, that will be a setback for President Donald Trump, who tried to stir support for Moore during a Fright night rally in Pensacola, Florida. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell telegraphed last week that if Roy Moore wins, then the new Alabama Senator is certain to face a review by the Senate Ethics Committee. Alabama's senior Senator, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), made it clear again on Sunday that he wrote in someone else - instead of voting for Roy Moore. Just that part of the story is highly unusual, let alone all the other news stories that keep coming out about Moore's past actions and beliefs. It would be an unprecedented situation if Moore wins, since so many GOP Senators have made it crystal clear that they want no part of him.