Congress has long to-do list, but little chance of action

There's a lot on the docket, but there's only one thing that Congress must do in the coming month: Figure out a way to keep the government open before spending legislation expires Oct. 1.

By: AP | Washington | Published:September 6, 2016 1:51 pm
US, US Congress, Congress, US politics, trade, Supreme Court, gun control, zika, IRS, Hillary Clinton, Iran, defense policy, US news, world news, latest news, indian express Lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 6 for an abbreviated election-season session in which they will likely do what they do best, which is preventing the government from shutting down and finally providing money for the government’s battle against the mosquito-borne Zika virus. (Source: AP)

Election-year politics will rule the congressional calendar when lawmakers return from a seven-week recess.

Congress will have a little more than four weeks in session beginning Tuesday before the November election, or around 20 days. Lawmakers are scheduled to leave town again in early October to return home and campaign.

There’s a lot on the docket, but there’s only one thing that Congress must do in the coming month: Figure out a way to keep the government open before spending legislation expires Oct. 1.

Beyond that, there are other high-priority items on the agenda, such as approving funds to combat the mosquito-borne Zika virus, and defense policy legislation that determines how much is spent on the nation’s military. Other measures, such as gun control legislation and the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, face much longer odds for passage.

Both chambers will also spend time on political investigations such as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails and the Iran nuclear deal.

A rundown of what will or won’t be done:

Must Do

Keeping the government open: It may seem like a simple task, but as in previous years, policy disputes between the two parties have kept the House and Senate from passing spending bills before the Oct. 1 deadline. That means lawmakers will have to pass legislation to extend current spending and keep the government open just weeks before the November election.

Conservatives want an extension until next year, putting off the larger spending fight until then. But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday that he and President Barack Obama will oppose that approach and press for a short-term measure until December.

High Priority

Zika: Lawmakers in both parties say they want to pass legislation to help the government combat the Zika virus, but abortion politics stalled legislation to provide $1.1 billion before Congress left town in July. Republicans added a provision that would block Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money to fight the virus, and Democrats blocked Senate passage of the bill. Dozens of Zika cases have been confirmed in the political battleground state of Florida since lawmakers departed, and Republicans and Democrats are expected to revive the fight almost immediately upon their return.

Defense policy: Members of a House-Senate conference who are working to write a final defense policy bill for the coming fiscal year are grappling with a range of issues, including the total amount to spend on the military and whether women should be required to register for a potential military draft. They’re also trying to resolve differences between the two chambers over a program that allows Afghan civilians in danger of being harmed by the Taliban to receive visas and resettle in the United States.

Election-Year Politics

Hillary Clinton: Furious the FBI didn’t recommend charges against their political rival over her private email server, Republicans now are demanding that the Justice Department open a new investigation into whether the Democratic presidential nominee lied during testimony last year before a House panel investigating the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. FBI Director James Comey also could return to Capitol Hill for more questions about Clinton’s email server now that the FBI has published documents summarizing interviews with Clinton and her top aides. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Congress and the public are still missing key pieces of information.

Iran: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said last week that Republicans controlling the chamber will pass legislation addressing the Obama administration’s $400 million payment to Iran in January, made immediately after four U.S. prisoners were released. Republicans have also announced they will hold hearings on the payment.

IRS commissioner: House conservatives are determined to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, saying he stonewalled and impeded congressional investigations into IRS targeting of conservative organizations. Koskinen wasn’t commissioner at the time of the political fallout over Lois Lerner, who oversaw the IRS office that handled groups’ applications for tax-exempt status. She was held in contempt of Congress after refusing to testify to a House committee and eventually retired.

Long Shots

Gun control: Democrats tried to force successful votes on gun control after a mass shooting at a Florida nightclub in June that left 49 people dead. But those efforts have stalled in both chambers.

Supreme Court: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected consideration of Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia. McConnell says the next president should choose Scalia’s replacement.

Trade: Republican leaders have supported a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade deal backed by President Barack Obama, but it is opposed by most congressional Democrats and both major presidential candidates. Supporters are hoping there could be action in the “lame duck” session after the election and before the new Congress next year.