What’s ahead in Congress

11 Sep

Summer recess is over and Congress is back – for a little while.

Lawmakers have to get out and do their own campaigning.

On the table are some major issues:
Taxes
Spending cuts
The very scary “fiscal cliff” in January

So what will happen?
Not much – just like usual.

With Election Day less than two months away, the Hill seems to be looking at the bare minimum — preventing a government shutdown when the budget year ends September 30th.

What we can expect to see from both the House and Senate are votes intended to score political points or make the other side look bad.

Meanwhile the presidential campaign hits the final miles.

Topping the agenda is a six-month temporary spending bill to finance the government’s day-to-day operations.

That’s because the annual appropriations process on Capitol Hill crashed and burned midway through the campaign season.

A stopgap measure would put a full-year plan – and its politics – off until the next Congress.

It’ll happen – a government shutdown right before the November 6th vote would drive Congress’ approval ratings even lower.
They’re already the lowest in history.

The Republicans and Democrats are planning to present the stopgap funding measure this week, with a House vote as early as Thursday.

Also on the table is a very important piece of leftover business, a five-year farm bill.

If passed, it’ll overhaul crop safety net programs while funding the food stamp program that now provides assistance to more than 46 million people.

The current farm act runs out at the end of September.

But House Republican leaders may not bring it to the floor.

It now appears that Congress will at most go for a temporary extension of the old bill, including drought aid for livestock producers whose assistance programs ran out last year.

But,  it’s also not certain lawmakers will do even that because without a formal extension, food stamp and other nutrition programs would continue to function beyond September 30th.

Most farmers would not be affected because the current farm bill covers 2012 crops regardless of when they are harvested.

The food and farm legislation is in trouble because many GOP conservatives want deeper cuts to food stamps and the Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass the bill, are not willing to cut that deep.

Then after this week, House members could be packing up and leaving the Capitol Friday evening to return to their homes to campaign.

Maybe, they’ll return the following week.

The end result of all this is going to a very large stack of must-do work that will be left for a postelection lame-duck session.

There’s an almost 30 percent cut in doctors’ Medicare fees, the full food and farm bill, passing the annual Pentagon policy bill, a Russia free trade bill and legislation to reform the Postal Service, which is now losing $25 million a day.

There will also be the expiration of all the President Bush-era tax cuts on December 31st.

The resulting tax increases, when combined with more than $100 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect at the same time, are known as the “fiscal cliff”.

Economists are warning unless Congress acts, the one-two punch would send the fragile economy back into recession.

Fun times on Capitol Hill.

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