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Next week: Five days to deal with taxes, spending, surveillance

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Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a member of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, confers with an aide as tax bill conferees gather to work on the sweeping GOP plan on Capitol Hill. Having reached a final deal on the bill, House Republicans plan to take up tax reform as early as Tuesday, where GOP leaders predict it will pass. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Congress meets next week to pass bills that overhaul the U.S. tax code, keep the government open, approve new disaster relief funding, authorize the flood insurance program, and keep in place a major counter-terrorism tool that expires this month.

And they have five days to do it.

The prospects for passing tax reform by Christmas improved on Friday when Republican lawmakers struck a deal with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to increase the refundable portion of the child tax credit to $1,400. Rubio had been holding back support over the tax credit, and wanted more of it to be paid out to families that don't pay an income tax, but do contribute to payroll taxes.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, told the Washington Examiner the upper chamber will vote on the bill “probably Tuesday.” It requires a simple majority for passage, and Vice President Mike Pence postponed a Middle East trip in case he is needed to break a tie.

Republican leaders said they don’t think Pence will be required to pass the bill. They believe ailing Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., will make it to the Senate to vote on the measure.

On Friday, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who voted against the bill this year, announced he will now vote for it, which should make it easier for the GOP to pass it.

House Republicans plan to take up the tax measure as early as Tuesday, where GOP leaders predict it will pass. A faction of lawmakers from the high-tax states of New Jersey, New York, and California are likely to oppose the bill because it limits deductions on state and local income and property taxes. But the opposition is not considered significant enough to block the bill.

“I remain a no,” Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., told the Washington Examiner, citing the income and property tax deduction.

If both chambers pass tax reform, they will immediately face hurdles blocking the passage of government funding legislation.

The House plans to pass a bill to fund the government until January 19th, with a provision included that would fully fund the defense budget for the remainder of the fiscal year at levels above a federally mandated cap.

Democrats have pledged to oppose the bill, and they plan to block it from passing the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to advance a bill. Republicans hold just 52 seats in the Senate.

A bill providing temporary spending authority runs out on Dec. 22, which means lawmakers will have to reach a bipartisan deal in just a few days.

Democrats are demanding equal funding for domestic and military spending, which would require the two parties to either agree on new spending caps for 2018, or, in a more likely scenario, they’ll have to agree to pass a short-term funding extension for the federal government, or continuing resolution, that excludes extra money for the military.

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said there is not enough time to draft a year-long spending bill, so even if the two parties agree on 2018 spending caps, a short-term bill is all they can finish by the end of the week, when the House and Senate plan to adjourn for the year.

Another complicating factor is that lawmakers in both parties are working on a deal to include in the CR supplemental federal funding for states and territories damaged by wildfires and hurricanes this year. The funding is expected to exceed a Trump administration request with the addition of money for California to pay for wildfire damage, and extra funding for Texas, where Hurricane Harvey caused significant wind and flood damage.

“That will be part of the CR process,” Cornyn said of the disaster money.

The spending bill will also temporarily extend authorization for the nation’s flood insurance program. Negotiators in the House and Senate told the Washington Examiner they have yet to reach a long-term deal needed to reform the insolvent program.

The House passed floor insurance legislation, but the Senate has yet to approve a bill.

“It’s going to have to be bipartisan and it’s going to have to work in the House and the Senate,” Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, told the Washington Examiner. “There will have to be reforms in it.”

Lawmakers also plan to reauthorize, at least temporarily, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which is considered one of the nation’s most critical counter intelligence tools. It expires on Dec. 31.

But they are at odds over how to enhance privacy provisions as well as how to reform the program to address alleged abuse and leaking of information by intelligence officers.

The FISA provision gives the intelligence community the authority to spy on foreigners outside the U.S., but it can be used to surveil Americans who are in communication with those foreigners. Some Republicans believe the authority was used for political purposes to leak information about the Trump administration and are seeking reforms.

With just days to find a deal, some were already predicting a short-term extension to create more time to find an agreement.

“There is just too much disagreement,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “I do think the likely outcome is something very short-term. They are not going to let it go dark. We will not lose FISA powers.”