Congress returns to work this week for a final few weeks of work before the November elections. While there is plenty of legislating to do, I don’t expect that we’ll see much action with most major issues being delayed until the post-election lame-duck session. The only thing that Congress MUST act on before October 1st is to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to fund government for the next couple of months. Appropriators are now working on the CR, which could run until the middle of next month or after Thanksgiving. A second CR may also be needed to buy time as lawmakers work to clear the spending package before the end of the year.
No separate floor action on additional FY11 appropriations bills is currently expected in either the House or Senate, but the Senate may try to complete committee action on their three remaining bills: Defense, Interior, and Legislative Branch. All 12 of the House spending bills have been approved by subcommittee, with MilCon-VA and Transportation-HUD also receiving full committee approval.
The first priority for the Senate appears to be to pass the small-business lending bill. The bill (HR 5297) would establish a $30 billion lending fund for small businesses, provide $12 billion in tax breaks, and enhance federal programs that support small businesses. After the Senate passes the bill, the measure will go back to the House for consideration. The version passed earlier by that chamber includes a smaller tax package, and thus fewer revenue-raising offsets.
Extension of the Bush tax cuts is the only other major budget-related legislation that may be considered in the next few weeks. Senate leadership has indicated their desire to move on extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the middle class before the Senate adjourns for October but it may be difficult to get enough votes for that proposal. This mirrors the President’s proposal to allow the tax cuts for individuals making more than $200,000 and families making more than $250,000 a year to expire. Others believe that all rates to be extended thus preventing any tax increases during these tough economic times.
Climate Change & Energy
The Senate has dropped plans to consider energy or climate legislation before November. Senate leadership has indicated that they would like to take up in the lame-duck session either all or a portion of an oil spill and energy bill.
There is almost no chance Congress will act on any legislation to assist the illegal immigrant population this year, but congressional aides expect lawmakers to at least talk about the issue over the next several weeks. There is some pressure on the Senate to take action on a bill that allows children of illegal immigrants who go to college to earn citizenship (the DREAM Act) but it is still unlikely that this measure will move before November – at the earliest.
Thanks to a federal court’s decision last week to temporarily lift a judge’s ban on embryonic stem cell funding, a House vote on the volatile issue of government funding for stem cell research might be put off until after the midterm election.