Congress has very few days before funding deadline

Long to-do list includes immigration negotiations

By TAL KOPAN, CNN
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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WASHINGTON (CNN) - Congress extended government funding until Feb. 8 with a long to-do list including negotiations on immigration, budget caps and disaster funding.

Not long after, they left town.

Both the House and the Senate will be in session only a handful of days before the Feb. 8 deadline.

The House recessed almost immediately after passing a bill to end a government shutdown, sending lawmakers home for a long-scheduled break in their districts this week, and is scheduled to be in town for just five legislative days between now and the deadline. The Senate is on track to leave for the weekend by Thursday afternoon.

Next week and the week after are long-scheduled Republican and Democratic retreats outside the Capitol and the president's State of the Union address, all of which will eat up the precious two weeks remaining before Congress could be on the precipice of another shutdown.

That's left lawmakers frustrated over whether they can make any substantive progress on outstanding issues -- including immigration -- before the next showdown arrives.

"We only have five legislative days, really?" Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, a New Mexico Democrat, said as she left votes Monday night. "And we're going to start from scratch (on negotiations)? Nobody knows who's negotiating what, because (Republicans) are chaotic, they are reckless, they cannot govern, and so, of course, I'm disappointed and frustrated. But you know what, I will absolutely fight every single one of those four days."

Republicans are quick to note the calendar is precisely the reason they had originally proposed a four-week continuing resolution that was rejected by Senate Democrats and some Republicans, which led to the shutdown.

"That's why we originally wanted to do it a week later, because realistically it's going to be a challenge," said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Texas Republican. "This whole situation seems to be maddening and frustrating, to understate my feelings about it."

But lawmakers -- especially those working in a group of bipartisan senators -- said the tight timeframe was part of why they were having an aggressive schedule of meetings.

"We'll deal it the best we can, but it is short," said Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona.

"That's why I'm dedicating a fair amount of time to meeting with people from the bipartisan group," Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said. "The calendar's very tight, which is why I think at the end of the day, the most likely path forward is a simple, narrow deal."

Several lawmakers said they intended to keep working despite the calendar.

"I was in multiple meetings on immigration. There's all kind of budget meetings going on. I've got two more this afternoon," Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma said earlier Wednesday on the level of commitment, saying that will continue when lawmakers leave town. "We'll still be on the phone."

"I'm not leaving yet. I'll be here all week," echoed Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Washington state's Sen. Patty Murray, the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said there were "good negotiations" happening and she remained hopeful.

"It's a huge task to ask for a few days, but Congress can do it if they put their mind to it," Murray said. "We'll see."

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