Congress to hit campaign trail early, leave to-do list behind
WASHINGTON — Congress will meet for only a few final days this week to enable lawmakers to campaign full time in the battle for control of Capitol Hill, leaving much business undone until after the election.
The House convenes for three days to wrap up its work, while the Senate, where Democrats have the majority, is considering a similar truncated schedule. Lawmakers had initially been scheduled to work through the first week of October.
The one must-pass piece of legislation — a bill to keep the government funded once the new fiscal year begins Oct.1 — is set for final approval this week in the Senate after having already cleared the House.
Gone, at least for now, are the days when congressional Republicans threatened to shut down the federal government as leverage to extract steep budget cuts in negotiations with President Obama. With the Nov. 6 election looming, lawmakers appear poised to simply keep the government running to avoid a high-stakes showdown. The stopgap measure would fund the government through March 27.
The remainder of the congressional agenda in the House and Senate is made up largely of politically themed measures to showcase partisan positions on jobs, the economy and other issues, rather than legislation that is likely to become law.
Obama’s Veterans Jobs Corps proposal is scheduled for a vote in the Senate, but it will probably be blocked by a GOP-led filibuster as Republicans are unlikely to be able to amend the legislation and have not been interested in taxing healthcare providers to pay for it. The bill would provide $1 billion over the next five years to hire veterans for jobs on federal public lands projects, giving priority to those who have served since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The House is scheduled to consider a resolution expressing disapproval with Obama’s approach to welfare reform. The administration decided this summer to waive existing work requirements for those who receive welfare benefits if states can demonstrate better programs for employing and retaining workers.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, complained after Republicans announced the fall schedule about the long to-do list of unfinished business.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the work that has not been done,” Hoyer said last week, noting the continued stalemate over the so-called fiscal cliff — the combination of tax hikes set to take effect in December and steep spending cuts in January that, analysts have said, could siphon so much money out of the economy it would prompt a new recession.
Congress hopes to prevent that scenario with a year-end deal. But because Republicans and Democrats take different approaches to the problem, serious efforts are not expected until the lame-duck session of Congress after the November election.
Congress also may leave undone several other top items, including a farm bill that has been crucial for agricultural states hit hard by drought. Also unfinished is legislation that would provide reforms for the Postal Service, which has been dogged by financial shortfalls, and an extension of the Violence Against Women Act, a normally bipartisan bill that authorizes program funding for victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican majority leader, said the House had done its work by repeatedly passing GOP bills dealing with key issues.
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